Higher Education Committee Work Session on Interim Planning

The House Higher Education Committee conducted a work session on interim planning this morning, Thursday, March 1. Chairman Representative Larry Seaquist lead a panel discussion with legislators and stakeholders on next steps in higher education planning, specifically addressing the question, “what is the important problem in higher education that the legislature should address next?”

Invited to present were three separate panels consisting of students, faculty and the business community.

The first panel saw two students from the University of Washington and one from the community college sector. Adam Sherman, a law student at the University of Washington, spoke to the importance of a dedicated funding source for higher education. Representative Larry Springer noted that within the legislature, specifically on the House Ways & Means committee, there is finally an emerging dialogue and acknowledgement that a dedicated funding source is crucial to higher education. Representative Larry Seaquist followed Springer’s statement with a larger question on what sort of “system” Washington wants in terms of higher education offerings and what a dedicated funding source would go towards. He noted that this question will need to be tackled during the interim and in future legislative sessions.

Following the student panel, faculty were invited to present. Dr. Bernal Baca of the community college sector, and Dr. Jim Fridley, a faculty member at the University of Washington, shared their perspectives on the next important steps. Bernal touched on recruitment issues, specifically in a time when adjunct faculty are becoming more and more of the norm in times of budget distress. Representative Chris Reykdal noted that we are reaching a point with the use of adjuncts where “quality” is becoming a very large issue.

Dr. Jim Fridley followed Dr. Baca asking the members to remember why we are all here. He talked about the three “big things” educators do.

  1. Translate and disseminate knowledge
  2. Create and discover new knowledge
  3. Use knowledge to help and support the community

With these three in mind he asked the legislature to look at three important areas where work will need to be done:

  1. How do we pay for all of this/where will state investment come from?
  2. How do students and families’ contributions play into this?
  3. The need to stay competitive in terms of faculty, staff and students and how this translates into quality.

The final panelist to present was Mike Hudson from the Association of Washington Business. Hudson noted the skills gap that exists for businesses and argued that it is not a quality issue, but instead a “pipeline” issue. He urged the legislature to focus on the problem of getting students at a young age exposed and interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In closing, Representative Seaquist let the committee and audience know that this conversation would be extended into the next work session (next week) with members of the Council of Presidents and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges sharing their perspectives on the issue.