Friday, February 11, 2011

House committee recommends passage of aid program for less-than-half-time students

The House Higher Education Committee on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would allow students enrolled less than half time at higher education institutions to receive State Need Grant (SNG) assistance, assuming they meet other eligibility requirements for the program.
HB 1650 makes permanent a pilot program begun in 2005 that extended SNG eligibility to students attending less than half time.  The pilot program expires June 30, 2011.
In 1990, the Legislature extended SNG eligibility to students enrolled at least half time, but less than full time.
Rep. Bob Hasegawa of Seattle, the prime sponsor of HB 1650, called the less-than-half-time pilot program “extremely successful,” adding, “our desire is to institutionalize it as a permanent part of the State Need Grant.”
Hasegawa said the bill is especially aimed at helping continuing or older students who often work, have child care obligations or are dealing with other life situations that prevent them from taking a half-time or greater college load. Approximately 4,000 of the 70,000 students who received SNG awards last year were less-than-half-time students.
Rachelle Sharpe, Acting Director of Student Financial Assistance for the HECB, spoke in favor of the bill. She said 81 percent of less-than-half-time students in the pilot program attend community or technical colleges, and 69 percent enroll in that category for just one term.
Hasegawa said making SNG available to eligible less-than-half-time students keeps them from dropping out of school, thereby preserving the state’s investment in those students.
The bill would not add to the state’s financial aid costs. The pilot program was funded at $500,000 annually.  If the budget for the next biennium does not reflect a similar amount, less-than-half-time students would be served through whatever amounts institutions receive for the SNG program, Sharpe said.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Work under way on revisions to higher education opportunity legislation

Most who testified at a public hearing Wednesday on Rep. Reuven Carlyle’s proposed Higher Education Opportunity Act agreed it represented a good start at addressing higher education funding needs during the current state fiscal crisis. 
The Act, HB 1795, would give the governing boards of the public baccalaureate institutions authority to set tuition levels for all students during the next three academic years.  However, it also would require them to set aside additional tuition revenue to support financial aid programs if those tuition increases exceed 7 percent per year.
The legislation states that Washington is experiencing a “profound structural shift in the funding of higher education.” State support has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, necessitating tuition increases to supplant the support of higher education from general taxpayers.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act does not specify a limit on the tuition increases for the three-year period. Currently, state law limits tuition increases for resident undergraduates to 7 percent per year at public baccalaureates, although the Legislature authorized 14 percent increases in each of the past two years.
Under the bill, the SBCTC would be authorized raise tuition to levels specified in the 2011-13 omnibus appropriations act. If the SBCTC does not raise tuition to these levels, the bill grants the boards of the 34 community and technical colleges the option of increasing tuition to the level specified in the budget act.
Rep. Carlyle, of Seattle, said a substitute bill is in the works incorporating changes suggested by stakeholders and fellow legislators.
Currently, public baccalaureates whose boards decide to increase tuition above 7 percent would be required to set aside half the tuition revenue above 7 percent to support financial aid programs for low- and middle-income students. Students with incomes up to 125 percent of median family income (MFI) would be eligible to use the money to help offset the impact of the tuition increases.  Students eligible for the State Need Grant program must have an income no more than 70 percent of MFI, which is $54,500 for a family of four.
The bill has a strong accountability provision. It would require the HECB to develop, monitor and report on progress achieved by the baccalaureate institutions on specific performance measures such as bachelor’s degrees awarded, graduation rates, transfer rates, time and credits to degree, retention rates, and course completion. It also would require institutions to develop specific action plans to achieve the goals, and to report biennially to the Governor, Legislature and HECB.
Finally, HB 1795 would direct the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Committee to evaluate the impact of tuition increases on the college savings program, and to report back to the Legislature later this year on whether a “second phase” of the program might be appropriate.
During Wednesday’s hearing before the House Higher Education Committee, HECB Executive Director Don Bennett joined institution representatives, students and others in generally supporting the bill, while agreeing that more work still needs to be done.
HB 1795 is one of several higher education funding measures before the Legislature. Governor Gregoire’s 2011-13 budget proposal would permit resident undergraduate tuition increases ranging from 9 to 11 percent annually and would make even larger cuts in state General Fund support for higher education. 
Another proposal included in HB 1666 and SB 5717 would implement the recommendations of the Governor’s Higher Education Funding Task Force. It would provide additional tuition flexibility for four-year institutions but would limit tuition to the 60th percentile of tuition at similar institutions in the Global Challenge States with which Washington is often compared. The legislation also would set new degree production targets for the institutions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WSU’s Floyd discusses the relationship between tuition, financial aid and state support

In an op–ed piece in today’s Seattle Times, Washington State University President and former HECB Executive Director Elson Floyd argues that giving institutions greater flexibility to set tuition is only one part of the solution to the challenges facing higher education.  Stopping the “tuition spiral” and reinstating access as a cornerstone of the state’s higher education policy also must be addressed. Read the full article.

HECB would convene workgroup to promote prior learning goals

A workgroup convened by the HECB would focus on increasing the number of students who receive academic credit for prior learning obtained through work, military, or other experience under a bill approved by the House Higher Education Committee on Monday.
Under SHB 1522, the workgroup would strive to ensure that academic credit for prior learning that counts toward college degrees or certificates would only be awarded when the prior learning demonstrates “high quality, course-level competencies.”
In addition to the HECB, other workgroup participants would include the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, the Council of Presidents, and representatives of higher education institutions, faculty, private career schools, and business and labor.
Convening a workgroup to implement prior learning goals was one of the recommendations in a report submitted to the Legislature by the SBCTC in December.  Last year, the Legislature directed the SBCTC to consult with stakeholder groups and develop policies for awarding academic credit for experience gained outside the traditional academic arena.
According to the SBCTC report, “People gain a wealth of experience through both formal and informal learning experiences. There is no reason to re-learn skills and knowledge in the college classroom—and pay for the opportunity to do so—if there is a process in place to assess and award credit for this prior learning, as it applies to the course or programs for which the person would receive credit. 
At a public hearing on SHB 1522, a representative of The Evergreen State College said about 30 students per year take advantage current prior learning programs at the institution.  Other institutions are believed to offer some credit for prior learning as well.
Supporters say awarding prior learning credit frees classroom space for students who don’t have the experience, and it benefits the economy by delivering more credentialed workers sooner. The HECB supports the bill.
“We think recognition of prior learning in terms of credit is a way to accelerate the path to completion for students and is an efficiency measure for the system as a whole,” said Chris Thompson, the HECB’s Director of Government, College & University Relations.

Under SHB 1522, other goals of the workgroup would include:
  • Increasing the number and type of academic credits accepted for prior learning by institutions;
  • Developing transparent policies and practices in awarding prior learning credit;
  • Creating tools to develop faculty and staff knowledge and expertise about prior learning;
  • Developing articulation agreements when patterns of credit for prior learning are identified for particular programs and pathways; and
  • Developing outcome measures to track progress on achieving the goals of the legislation.