Thursday, January 26, 2012

House, Senate offer two versions of a bill to replace HECB

Hearings continued this week on House and Senate bills that would transfer many of the responsibilities of the Higher Education Coordinating Board to a successor entity – either a Council for Higher Education or a Student Achievement Council.
The public hearings for these bills were held last week, when inclement weather prohibited many interested parties from attending. To enable a full discussion, the chairs of the House Higher Education Committee and the Senate Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee scheduled additional public hearings this week.
The House bill, HB 2483, under a proposed substitute, would create a Student Achievement Council as a state agency with a director appointed by the Governor from a list provided by the citizen members of the council.  This bill and its Senate companion bill, SB 6232, are based on the Higher Education Steering Committee recommendations.
SB 6269, an alternative to the Governor’s request legislation, would create a Council for Higher Education with a director selected by the council.
Legislative staff have prepared a comparison of key differences in the bills. Briefly, the House bill would create a nine-member council with five citizen representatives and the Senate bill would create a 14-member council with eight citizen representatives.  Institutional or sector representatives would be named to each council.
The House bill focuses on coordination and collaboration to increase statewide educational attainment; the Senate bill focuses more on policy development and coordination in higher education. The Senate bill would require the council to conduct a study and make recommendations on how best to expand its duties to include coordinating transitions from secondary to postsecondary education.
Testifying before the Senate committee Tuesday, Don Bennett, HECB executive director, said the proposed legislation would provide new emphasis on getting the relationship right between the legislature, the executive branch, and the institutions of higher education as they work to achieve the important central goal of raising statewide educational attainment.
The board has, over the years, served as a focal point for these discussions, Bennett said. A non-partisan entity is needed as the state attempts to guide institutional priorities toward meeting current and future economic and workforce needs while helping institutions fulfill their ongoing teaching, research and public service missions.  The new office or council should be expected to continue this important work, he said.
Bennett said additional attention would be needed to clarify how data needed to measure progress toward goals is gathered and analyzed – especially in light of the national movement to fund higher education on the basis of outcomes achieved rather than by student enrollments.   He also emphasized the need to fully integrate student financial assistance administration within the overall work of the new council.

Bills focus on improved efficiency, student success

Faced with a continued revenue shortfall, legislators have introduced a number of bills to promote cost efficiencies in higher education and improve student success. Many of these bills would impact the workload of the public colleges and universities, the HECB successor agency, and the public schools. However, most specify the additional work should be carried out within existing resources.
Student Auditing Committees
HB 2478 would create a seven-member student auditing committee at each four-year higher education institution to review at least one major institutional project annually; identify programs, practices, and processes that could be improved; and make recommendations to achieve cost reductions. The committees would be required to consult with the staff of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee and HECB successor for guidance on choosing appropriate projects, methodology, and presentation of information.
Completing a Baccalaureate Degree in Three Years
SB 6029 would amend the Launch Year Act by adding a requirement that all public high schools inform students and their families about opportunities to complete a baccalaureate degree in three years. The bill would require each higher education institution to publicize information on accelerated bachelor’s degree programs and any additional opportunities to complete a bachelor’s degree within three years and to provide this information to the HECB successor agency for distribution to OSPI.
Financial Aid Counseling Curriculum
SB 6121 would require the HECB or its successor to provide an online financial aid counseling curriculum to higher education institutions that includes an explanation of State Need Grant program rules; information on campus and private scholarships and work-study opportunities; an overview of student loan options (including the consequences of default); an overview of financial literacy; and average salaries for a wide range of jobs. Institutions would be required to take reasonable steps to ensure each State Need Grant recipient participates and completes the counseling.
Quarterly Academic Advising for Students
HB 2436 would direct higher education institutions to require students to meet with an academic adviser at least once per quarter to ensure they remain on track to complete a degree or certificate.  The student’s goals, degree program requirements and academic progress would be reviewed during the advising sessions.   
Financial Literacy as a High School Graduation Requirement
HB 2268 would require Washington high school students to successfully complete a half-credit course in financial literacy to qualify for graduation. The course would cover concepts such as saving, credit, insurance, inflation, and household budgeting.  The requirement would not add to the total number of credits students must have for graduation.
Requiring School Districts to Provide Remedial Postsecondary Education
SB 6438 would require school districts, under certain circumstances, to provide remedial education for recent high school graduates or pay the cost of providing state-supported remedial education for those students. Average instructional costs for remediation would be established and reports from public higher education institutions would be provided annually showing the number of students enrolled and the types of remedial courses taken. School districts would have the option of conducting remedial courses themselves or paying for the cost. The act would be applicable to students who earned their high school diplomas within three years of enrolling in remedial courses.
Creating Laboratory School Partnerships
 SB 6348 would create laboratory school partnerships that bring together Washington's institutions of higher education and low-achieving public schools to collaborate and implement plans to accelerate student achievement and deepen the knowledge and skills of educators. The synergy of the collaboration is expected to advance educator preparation and student learning practices within both the public school and higher education systems.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Statewide online transfer and advising system back on legislative agenda

In 2006, the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities piloted an online transfer and student advising system designed to make it easier for students who attend two or more postsecondary institutions to earn a degree.
Subsequently, a proposal to fund full statewide implementation of the system was not approved by the Legislature and the initiative has been on the shelf since.
However, legislation introduced in the first week of this session would require state education agencies and the higher education institutions to create and maintain such a system under the direction of the Higher Education Coordinating Board or its successor agency.
A little more than two weeks into the current legislative session, this is one of a number of bills focusing on student success that would assign new duties to the Higher Education Coordinating Board or its successor agency.  
The bill, HB 2258, would establish a statewide online transfer and student advising system that “integrates information related to programs, advising, registration, admissions, and transfer.”
The system would improve service delivery to students by providing easy access to information on programs, resources, and transferability of courses, the bill states.  
Featuring an inventory of postsecondary degrees and certificates available in the state, including online options, the system also would outline educational requirements for various occupations, including labor market information.
Other required elements of the system:
  • Specify educational requirements, admissions requirements, and prerequisites for all postsecondary programs.
  • Identify course options that meet the requirements of selected path toward a degree or certificate.
  • Provide registration and admissions information for institutions of higher education.
  • Provide a method for students to assess which courses and programs are transferrable from one institution of higher education to another and which programs will transfer with credit towards completion of their chosen degree or certificate.