Friday, February 4, 2011

Senate supplemental budget bill includes tuition transfer

The Senate today passed a supplemental budget bill that lawmakers will now attempt to reconcile with a House version passed on Jan. 24.
By a 38-9 vote, the Senate passed ESHB 1086, which was passed out of the Senate Way & Means Committee Thursday evening. Compared to the House version, the Senate version includes a lower level of cuts to some K-12 and health care programs, but it makes additional state-agency administrative reductions and implements a 3 percent pay cut for some state workers three months earlier than previously proposed.
For higher education, the Senate version also would reduce state General Fund support for the State Need Grant program by $25.4 million, but it would fully offset the cut by transferring tuition money primarily used by public colleges and universities for student instruction.

Groups band together in support of higher ed

Higher education supporters gathered on the Capitol steps Thursday to express concern over possible state budget cuts for higher education. An article posted on said the supporters met “under a sky dark with foreboding.” 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Senate budget proposal would transfer tuition money to financial aid account

The Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday held a public hearing on a supplemental budget bill for FY 2011 that would transfer $25.4 million in tuition revenue from institution local fund accounts to the Opportunity Pathways Account to help fund student financial aid programs. The committee has tentatively scheduled executive action on the bill this afternoon.
Public colleges and universities administer tuition revenue accounts to support institution operation, primarily the instruction of students. Representatives from the University of Washington and Washington State University urged the committee not to shift these local tuition revenue funds to financial aid.
In contrast to ESHB 1086, the 2011 supplemental operating budget passed by the house, The Senate Ways and Means Committee version reduces the magnitude of cuts to some K-12 education and health care programs, including K-4 class size and the Basic Health Plan, proposed by the House and the Governor.
The Senate amendments would cut another $394 million in overall state spending for the balance of the biennium, compared to $352 million in the House version.    Neither proposal completely eliminates a $1.1 billion shortfall in state revenue for the remainder of the biennium, which ends June 30.  The Legislature began whittling away at the shortfall in December, with passage of a supplemental budget that cut $588 million in state spending.
Other cost-saving measures in the Senate budget proposal include implementing a 3 percent pay reduction for non-represented state workers three months earlier than planned, tightening eligibility for the Children’s Health Program, reducing management at the Department of Social and Health Services, and cutting agency public relations staffs.
Several speakers at Wednesday’s hearing testified against the proposal to use tuition dollars to pay for state financial aid programs.  Current law requires public two- and four-year institutions to set aside 3.5 percent of tuition revenue to help fund institutional financial aid programs. And in the current biennium, baccalaureate institutions were required to set aside additional tuition revenue as part of the authority they were given to raise tuition by 14 percent per year.
Margaret Shepherd, the UW’s director of student relations, said using tuition revenue to cover the state’s obligation to its neediest students “represents a fundamental policy shift in higher education and also further illustrates that the public higher education financing model in Washington state is both unsustainable and broken.”
Chris Mulick, director of state relations for WSU, also cautioned against the appropriation of tuition dollars, saying tuition is “our primary flex tool for navigating these difficult budgetary waters.”
Both Shepherd and Mulick said institutions are ready to work with the Legislature to develop long-term solutions to higher education’s funding problems.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Newspaper says proposal to eliminate HECB not a good idea

A proposal in SB 5182 to abolish the HECB has not been well received by editorial writers at the Seattle Times.  An editorial in this morning’s paper suggested that moving the agency’s responsibilities over strategic planning and financial aid to other agencies could grow rather than shrink the state bureaucracy.    “More importantly, losing the citizens board would mean the loss of an important public perspective,” the Times said.  

Monday, January 31, 2011

HECB supports legislation to extend doctoral programs to branch campuses

Legislation requested by the HECB that would authorize research universities to propose and develop doctoral programs at their branch campuses has been introduced in House and Senate bills.
SB 5315 and HB 1586 address a key goal of the state’s Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education:  significantly increase graduate degree production—including doctoral degrees—to provide the research and innovative skills required to remain competitive in the modern economy.
Washington lags well behind the national average in the production of graduate and professional degrees among its younger citizens. In 2007-08, the state ranked 42nd in the number of degrees produced per 1,000 residents aged 20-34. 
The System Design Plan adopted by the HECB in 2009 and endorsed by the Legislature last year established a process for boosting degree production, in part by making full use of existing capacity in the state higher education system. Among other things, the plan recommended expanding graduate education at comprehensive institutions and branch campuses.
Under the legislation requested by the HECB, the UW and WSU would be authorized to develop doctoral programs at branch campuses, subject to approval by the HECB. Currently, branch campuses are authorized to provide only baccalaureate and master’s programs.
The Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee has scheduled a public hearing on SB 5315 on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Room 3. The proposed legislation was discussed in an article in today’s Olympian.

Value of HECB's independent voice on higher ed issues discussed at hearing

How Washington’s higher education programs should be governed and administered, and whether an independent citizen board is essential in developing sound higher education solutions for the future, were discussed Wednesday during public hearings on three bills before the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee.
Meanwhile, the Governor’s related-but-separate proposal to create a new Department of Education also was mentioned several times, even though it wasn’t on the schedule. That draft legislation is expected to be introduced soon.
Wednesday’s hearing on SB 5182 would abolish the Higher Education Coordinating Board and transfer its administrative responsibilities over student financial aid to the Office of Financial Management (OFM). Other HECB duties—including higher education system planning, new-degree approval, and consumer protection related to out-of-state institutions—would be transferred to other state agencies, to the higher education institutions themselves, or would be abandoned.
Seattle Sen. Scott White, the bill’s prime sponsor, noted that the state faces a major budget crisis in which cuts to health care for low-income families and reductions in K-12 education have been proposed. “We have the responsibility to look at efficiencies in a variety of areas and make administrative reforms,” White said.
Some agencies are created and serve a critical purpose for a time, “but the landscape can change,” White said.
However, several speakers—including two current board members, students, institutional representatives and the HECB’s current and former executive directors—emphasized the important roles the agency still has to play.
Former HECB Executive Director Ann Ryherd (formerly Ann Daley), noted that about 97 percent of the HECB’s budget is really financial aid money on its way to students.  “I don’t think you’re going to save a lot of money. I would propose this could be a penny-wise, pound-foolish move,” Ryherd said.
With the remaining 3 percent of its budget, the independent citizen board and its staff perform a variety of valuable functions, including developing higher education system plans that offer a broader perspective than those of individual colleges and universities.
Assuming the economy is on the cusp of recovery, pressure will soon grow to create new higher education institutions in the state, Ryherd said. Evaluating those proposals from a broad public, rather than a regional, perspective will be important.  “You make your best decisions when you have the best information,” she said.
HEC Board members Jesus Hernandez and Roberta Greene also emphasized the important contribution that independent citizen boards make to such decisions.
“In a time when everyone is advocating for their share of state revenues, are our decisions about higher education investments and funding best made through a wholly political process, or should we rely more on well-researched analysis that takes into account short and long term implications in the context of the broad public interest?” Hernandez asked.
Hernandez noted the breadth of experience possessed by his fellow board members, who include a former president of WSU, a superintendent of schools, a former executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, senior executives at Battelle and Weyerhaeuser, and business and civic leaders from Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver. 
Greene emphasized the collective effort and citizen input reflected in the state’s Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education, a roadmap that, she believes, would be “scrapped” under SB 5182.
“The plan provides our state’s commitment to achieving greater diversity in higher education.    It also is a high level of commitment to significantly increasing the number of underrepresented students who complete postsecondary degrees and certificates. It also is a commitment to making college affordable by maintaining stable tuition rates and increasing financial assistance,” Greene said.
“I believe strongly that we provide a forum and vehicle for board discussion on state level issues that reach cross the sectors of higher education and also between higher education and K-12,” Greene said.
During the hearing, one member of the Senate committee, Jim Kastama of Puyallup, suggested that making changes in the HECB, rather than eliminating it, might be another solution. “I see the benefit of the HECB, but I don’t know if you’re there yet,” Kastama said.
Another bill on Wednesday’s committee schedule, SB 5107, would create a new governance system for public baccalaureate institutions in Washington. The separate boards of regents and boards of trustees at the institutions would be replaced with a single, 19-member Board of Regents.
Another governance bill, Senate Bill 5108, would abolish the Council of Presidents, a voluntary association of the state’s public baccalaureate institutions.