House and Senate Higher Education Continue to Meet; House Begins Hearing Legislation

It’s week three of the 2013 legislative session and things are well under way in both chambers.

The House and Senate Higher Education Committees have continued to hold work sessions where they are exploring a variety of higher education topics. Yesterday, January 29th, the House Higher Education Committee held a work session on Washington’s financial aid programs and student debt.

House Higher Education Committee

Hearing first from Dr. Rachelle Sharpe, Director of Student Financial Assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council; the committee was briefed on tuition patterns, financial aid and student borrowing and debt. Due to significant budget cuts, the state’s colleges and universities have been forced to offset those losses with tuition increases. As expected, greater burdens have been placed on the state’s financial aid programs and student borrowing. While 75,000 students were awarded State Need Grants last year, another 32,000 students were left unserved. Not surprisingly, students are borrowing at greater levels. Interestingly, according to Dr. Sharpe’s report, students at our two year community colleges are borrowing at a faster rate than other sectors, but many students do graduate without any debt and private loan borrowing has decreased significantly. Additionally, Washington student debt loads still rank quite low when measured on a national scale. Ranking 39th in the nation, average total loan debt upon graduation in Washington is $22,244 with 56% of students graduating with no loan debt. For Dr. Sharpe’s full presentation click here.

Following Dr. Sharpe the committee heard from Mason H. Burley of the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The Institute has been charged by the legislature to determine” to what extent the State Need Grant program has increased access and degree attainment for low-income students” and whether spending in the program has been utilized in an efficient manner. The final report is not due until December 2013, but an update to the legislature was required by December 2012. Mason spent a good deal of his presentation giving a background on what is expected of the report and the trends the Institute will be studying. To see his entire presentation click here.

Finally, the House Higher Education Committee was scheduled to conduct a hearing on two bills; House Bill 1043 and House Bill 1109. The committee ran out of time and only heard testimony on the former. House Bill 1043 limits differential tuition setting authority at the state colleges and universities. Representatives of both the two and four year sectors spoke in opposition to the bill. While representatives reported no schools plan on implementing differential tuition at this time, all felt by eliminating its potential, the institution’s hands could be tied further down the road. Speaking in support of the legislation were members of the Washington Student Association.

Senate Higher Education

Over in the other chamber, Senate Higher Education also met yesterday, January 29th. On the agenda for the Senate committee was a work session on industry needs in the State of Washington and how higher education can respond to those needs. The committee heard from a variety of stakeholders over the two hour period. These included; the Washington Roundtable and a technology panel, with representatives from Socrata Inc and ZymoGenetics; an aerospace and trade panel, with representatives from the Aerospace Committee/Orion Industries and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle; an Agriculture and Health Panel, with representatives from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and Philips Health Care; and, an Energy and Forest Products Panel, with representatives from Washington State University’s Energy Program and Sierra Pacific. All panelists stressed the importance of “hands-on” experience available to Washington students. Additionally, all indicated a desire to hire employees from within our state. For the full presentations please click here.