Friday, January 21, 2011

UK lecturer wants to change the higher ed paradigm

The House Higher Education Committee took a few minutes Wednesday to gather insights from an animated video featuring a lecture by education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson, a Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, argues that today’s higher education system was designed and conceived for a different age and “is alienating millions of kids.”
Robinson proposes a new paradigm for education that supports collaborative learning efforts among students, and encourages “divergent thinking,” which is the ability to see many answers to a problem, not just one.  The HECB has put a link to the video on its YouTube site.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Senate bill would recognize online university in Washington

Under a bill introduced in the Senate, the state would partner with a nationally recognized nonprofit and independent university to offer online baccalaureate degrees to Washington students.
The online university would enhance access to postsecondary education for all Washington students, including dislocated workers and placebound students, according to SB 5136. The bill’s prime sponsor is Puyallup Sen. Jim Kastama.
While the bill does not name the online university that would operate in the state, an item on the Senate Democrats blog names Western Governors University (WGU), a private, non-profit institution established in the mid-1990s by 19 U.S. Governors, including former Washington Gov. Mike Lowry.
WGU’s website describes the institution as fully accredited and says it was created to expand access to higher education through online, competency-based degree programs. It serves over 20,000 students across the United States.
Under Kastama’s bill, the Legislature’s intent would be to recognize the institution as a Washington degree-granting institution that is self-supporting and does not receive state funding.
The bill calls on the HECB to “recognize and endorse online, competency-based education as an important component of Washington’s higher education system,” and to work to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the delivery of education programs by the online institution.
In Washington, a number of public two-and four-year institutions already offer many courses fully or partially online.  During the 2008-09 academic year, eLearning enrollments accounted for about 29,000 FTES in the public two-and four-year sectors.  In addition, many private degree-granting institutions that are authorized to operate in the state offer some or all of their courses on line.

HECB looks at other states’ funding models for ideas on improving higher education performance

Some states have begun to fund higher education on the basis of results rather than enrollment. These states believe their higher education institutions produce better results if state funding is based at least in part on operational efficiency or measurable improvements in degree production.
 The HECB is looking at the experiences of those other states to determine if they have valuable lessons for Washington.
 Don Bennett, HECB executive director, provided a brief report on alternative higher education funding models at the Senate Committee on Higher Education & Workforce Development work session Tuesday. He reported on models being implemented in Tennessee, Virginia and Ohio.
Tennessee’s funding model now encompasses performance measures such as the average time students take to earn 24, 48, and 72 credits; the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees produced;  the amount of research and grant funding generated;  the rate at which transfer students earn degrees; and the number of degrees produced per-100 full-time equivalent students (FTE). The weight given these categories varies according to institutional type. 
No specific targets in these categories are used to determine funding levels, but tracking and reporting this information allows the state to expand the mix of variables (including enrollment) it uses to make resource allocations.
Could something similar work in Washington? Yes, said Jan Ignash, HECB’s deputy director for policy, planning and research, but only if the state’s institutions can furnish outcome data on a timely basis.
Virginia’s ‘Top Jobs’ legislation rewards institutions for achieving greater levels of operational efficiency rather than on improvements in the rate of academic progress or degree production. There are 16 finance and administrative measures to address 12 goals. If institutions meet their targets, they get to keep interest on tuition and fees, carry forward budget balances, and retain rebates earned for purchases on credit cards.
Is Virginia’s model working? Results are mixed. Some institutions say the savings aren’t worth the extra work required to monitor and track outcomes.
Ohio now funds higher education partly on a performance basis and partly on an enrollment basis. The formula starts with FTE enrollment and cost-per-FTE and then is adjusted on the basis of student completion rates and degree completion (for main campuses only). Additional adjustments are made for enrolling low-income students, for low-income students who
complete courses, and for enrollments in STEM fields.
Is Ohio’s model working? In many ways it is too early to tell. The model operates at a micro-level and depends on gathering and analyzing a substantial amount of operational data that is currently not available in Washington.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Higher education is long term answer to economic challenges facing state

Higher Education Coordinating Board Executive Director Don Bennett was asked Monday if the Board considered the possibility that the state may be in for a decade of very low economic growth and structural deficits when the Board prepared its higher education budget recommendations for the 2011-13 biennial budget.
“I confess this is my own assumption,” House Higher Education Committee Chair Larry Seaquist told Bennett during the committee work session on Monday.  Seaquist said he believes state government’s current fiscal problems reflect not just a “pothole,” but a new playing field that the state will have to restructure itself to operate upon.
Bennett was explaining the process the Board followed last November in arriving at its recommendation for a $3.3 billion General Fund appropriation for higher education in the 2011-13 biennium.  The Board considers the recommendation a “survival level” proposal that does not restore higher education cuts made over the current biennium.
The HECB is aware of recent state economic forecasts but, Bennett said, the Board believes “holding the line” on educational investments, even during tough economic times, is ultimately the way out the state’s economic problems. He pointed to a decline in state educational attainment, including the likelihood that, for the first time, the next generation of Washingtonians will be less-well educated than the previous generation.
“If we don’t reverse engines and start to climb out of that deficit of talent and education and skill building, then exactly the future that you articulate is what we may be stuck with,” Bennett told the Committee chair.  “But it’s within our prerogative not to go down that road.”   

Shift away from state support for higher education discussed at hearing

The major themes of Gov. Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 budget for higher education are maintaining system quality and making progress on the degree-production targets contained in the state’s Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education.
That was the message the Governor’s fiscal and policy advisers delivered last week to members of the House Higher Education Committee, who also heard from higher education system representatives about the impact additional budget cuts could have on both program quality and degree production.
To maintain system quality in a time of reduced state revenue, the Governor’s budget would continue to shift more of the burden of higher education costs onto students and their families through higher tuition.
The budget proposal would reduce the higher education appropriation from the state General Fund by $344.7 million in the next biennium. The reduction would be partially offset by authorized tuition increases for the public colleges and universities.
The Governor proposes legislation that would limit undergraduate-resident annual tuition rate increases to:
·         11 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University;
·         10 percent at community and technical colleges;
·         9 percent at Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College.
The new tuition increases would come on top of 14 percent annual increases at the state’s public baccalaureate institutions the past two years, and 7 percent annual increases at community and technical colleges.
To offset the impact of tuition increases on students who meet income requirements for the State Need Grant (SNG) program, the Governor’s proposal would increase SNG funding by $91.6 million in the next biennium. Even so, demand for SNG may make it hard for some students to receive assistance. Last year, nearly 22,000 eligible students went unserved because demand exceeded available dollars.
To meet expected demand for college-educated workers in years ahead, the Strategic Master Plan calls for the state’s public and private four-year colleges and universities to produce at least 6,700 more bachelor’s degrees per year by 2018 than they did in 2010. The number of additional degrees needed would continue to increase in later years. Because of the recession, state budget cuts and other factors, the number of additional degrees produced since the Strategic Master Plan was adopted in 2008 has remained flat.
To address that issue, the Governor proposes to shift the focus from enrollments to an incentive program that rewards institutions that can produce more of the degrees the state needs.
Taking into account the additional revenue they would receive from tuition increases, the Governor’s budget proposal for 2011-13 still would leave higher education institutions about 5 to 6 percent below the level of operating revenue in the 2009-11 biennium. Additional cuts in the current biennium are likely when the Legislature passes a final supplemental budget.
 The reduction in state support for higher education—and the impact it has had on public colleges and universities—was described by higher education representatives during the House Higher Education Committee work session last week.
Council of Presidents Executive Director Mike Reilly pointed out that in the Governor’s proposed $32 billion state budget for 2011-13, about $1 billion in General Fund money is allocated for public baccalaureate institutions.  That is about the same amount allocated in the 1989-91 budget, when total General Fund spending was $12.7 billion. Reilly called that a “staggering stagnation of funding for higher education.”
Reilly said state investment makes higher education accessible and affordable and allows institutions to move toward meeting the state’s goal of increased degree production to serve the needs of the economy. Further reductions in General Fund support would move the state in the opposite direction—toward reduced access, fewer new degrees in science, technology engineering and mathematics, and fewer educated students, Reilly said.
 If lawmakers can keep further General Fund reductions to modest levels while allowing modest tuition increases, it may be possible to make continued progress on higher education goals, he said.