Monday, March 21, 2011

House and Senate committees wrap up work on other house’s bills prior to Friday cutoff

The House and Senate higher education committees last week recommended passage of a number of higher education bills that had been passed earlier in the other chamber.
On Friday, the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee wrapped up business on several bills, enabling committee members to focus on budget and other matters prior to the March 25 deadline for moving non-fiscal legislation passed by the other house out of committee.
Among the measures the Senate committee approved was SHB 1822, which would allow the on-line Western Governor’s University (WGU) to operate as a degree-granting institution recognized under Washington law. Supporters of the bill say the on line programs offered by WGU - Washington would expand higher education opportunities for all Washington students, including dislocated workers and place bound students.  A Senate version of the bill, 2SSB 5136, was sent to the Senate Rules Committee in late February but has not received a vote in the full Senate.  The difference between the House version approved last week by the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee and the Senate version currently in the Rules Committee is that the just-approved bill does not require WGU-Washington to win legislative approval in the future in order to participate in state financial aid programs.
The Senate committee also approved SHB 1650, which would allow the program to continue providing a State Need Grant (SNG) to students who participate in higher education programs on a less-than-half-time basis.  Until this 6-year pilot program was authorized, students had to be enrolled for at least 6 credits to be eligible for the program.  The version passed in the House removes the “pilot” designation from that program, which grants SNG eligibility to students enrolled for 3 to 5 quarter credits. As amended by the Senate committee, the pilot status would be extended another two years, to 2013, and the Higher Education Coordinating Board would be required to report on academic outcomes of participating students.
In explaining the amendment, Committee Chair Rodney Tom said he wasn’t satisfied that enough data has been gathered to determine if extending the SNG benefit to less-than-half-time students leads to higher degree-completion rates.  Other House bills that received a Senate committee endorsement on Friday:
Also last week, the House Higher Education Committee recommended passage of SSB 5442, which would authorize the state’s six public baccalaureate institutions to develop accelerated baccalaureate degree programs enabling students to receive a baccalaureate degree in three years, rather than the standard four.
·         HB 1586, which was requested by the HECB, would authorize the University of Washington and Washington State University to develop doctoral programs at their branch campuses, subject to HECB approval of specific degree programs. A more detailed look at this bill and a companion measure, SB 5315, was published earlier in the Legislative Report. 
·         HB 1424 would more closely align repayment requirements under the Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program and the Future Teachers Conditional Scholarship and Loan Repayment Program for students who do not meet service obligations under those programs.  The bill was requested by the HECB, which administers the programs.
·         HB 1425, another piece of HECB request legislation, would save the state about $66,000 in the next biennium by eliminating a requirement that the HECB evaluate and report to the Legislature on the effectiveness of a Health Sciences and Services Authority (HSSA) in Spokane. HSSAs were authorized in 2007 to promote bioscience-based economic development, to advance new disease-fighting therapies, and to promote public health.  The HECB has suggested the Spokane HSSA could use established criteria to evaluate its own program effectiveness.
Last Wednesday, the House Higher Education Committee recommended passage of SB 5484, a companion to the House HSSA bill.  The Senate bill is now in the House Rules Committee.
·         ESHB 1846 would establish an aerospace training student loan program administered by the HECB. A self-sustaining student loan account would also be created and would consist of money received by the Board, including repayments by loan recipients.   The loan program would be designed in consultation with representatives of aerospace employers, aerospace workers, and aerospace training or educational programs. Loan recipients would be selected from among students participating in the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center in Everett, and the Spokane Aerospace Technology Center, which is scheduled to open this year.
The engrossed substitute House bill is similar to SB 5674, which passed the Senate in February and is scheduled for executive action in the House on Tuesday.
While the three-year degree path would not represent a new standard for all students, the legislation states that the option would enable academically qualified students to enter the job market faster and would improve graduation rates, an important higher education goal. 
Under the bill, plans for accelerated degree programs would be submitted the HECB for approval. 

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