2019 Post-Session Survey

The recently completed legislative session ended on time April 28, with passage of a $52.8 billion state budget. To support an 18.3 percent increase in biennial spending, lawmakers adopted approximately $1 billion in new and increased taxes

The Legislature also lifted the cap on local property taxes adopted last year, making it possible for school districts to seek voter approval of property tax increases to support local schools. The budget includes increased spending for higher education and financial aid (paid for with increased taxes on service businesses), public employee compensation, mental health, and special education. 

We’re interested in your thoughts on the state budget and legislative session. Thank you for taking a few minutes to complete our brief survey.

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.

Investing in a strong higher education system increases shared prosperity

In today’s Puget Sound Business Journal, Washington Roundtable makes the case for investing in higher education.

Washington’s colleges and universities help create new technologies, companies and even industries, all of which bring exciting opportunities. Indeed, Washington boasts award-winning universities and cutting-edge programs. But we can do better…

Right now, our state ranks No. 38 [in bachelor’s degree awarded per capita]. Far from the top 10 and precariously close to the bottom. …This is hardly adequate performance, particularly since we know 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary training by the end of this decade.

There is also a persistent skills gap in Washington. Twenty-five thousand jobs, heavily concentrated in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), went unfilled in 2013 because employers couldn’t find qualified candidates. That number is expected to double by 2017.

Closing the skills gap and preparing Washington students for great opportunities requires our state to do more to protect, support and promote higher education….

A strong higher education system is the most powerful tool Washington has to ensure students get those much needed skills and to spread opportunity and shared prosperity.

More evidence of the importance of postsecondary education can be found in the Opportunity Washington research report. This is noteworthy:

One additional year of schooling for employed workers with at least a high school diploma is associated with a real per-capita GDP gain of 17.4 percent and a real wage increase per worker of 17.8 percent.

As Mullin writes, it’s a difficult budget session. But the state cannot afford to close the door to higher education to students aspiring to achieve.