New report examines approaches to college affordability taken by House and Senate

UPDATE: Some comments re the college affordability issue prompt a few more links.

  1. Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, offers his critique of the Senate proposal. 
  2. And for the counterpoint, the Senate’s take on its College Affordability Program.

The Washington Research Council today released “College Affordability, Two Ways,” a policy brief contrasting the different approaches taken by the House and Senate to expanding access to higher education. 

Effectively, [the Senate] would take tuition-setting authority out of the hands of both the institutions and future Legislatures [by establishing a formula tying tuition to the state’s average wage] . Without the option of increasing tuition, if the state wants to maintain higher education funding in the future, it would have to continue to maintain its state appropriations—something that can be difficult given its discretionary nature. …

 The House budget proposal offers another way to increase college affordability. Like the Senate, the House would provide significant new funds for higher education … The House would freeze tuition for the biennium and increase state support to institutions by a total of $106 million. The House would additionally provide $53 million to increase the number of students served by the state need grant.

The WRC notes the contrast and asks:

The Legislature faces a philosophical question: To increase affordability, should the state lower tuition or increase access to state-funded financial aid?

This report complements the Council’s earlier brief, Higher Education Policy and the State Budget.

The Seattle Times today reports on another dimension of college affordability, the expansion of online coursework. One problem:

Two years ago, a study of Washington’s community colleges found that completion rates for online courses were 6 to 10 percentage points lower than courses taught face-to-face.

To their credit, the colleges have acted to improve outcomes.

Since that study came out, Washington’s community colleges have done training for faculty members throughout the system to improve the quality of online courses, said Laura McDowell, spokeswoman for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).

And SBCTC has adopted a learning management system called Canvas that more effectively delivers online education, McDowell said. 

Online education will likely continue to be an important tool in making higher education more accessible and affordable. These efforts to improve performance are encouraging.