Thursday, March 22, 2012

New House bill overhauls state colleges

By Amelia Heath, Copy Editor

Public colleges in Washington state are about to undergo major changes.

In a press release issued March 6, the Washington state House of Representatives announced it passed House Bill 2483, a bill which will “completely overhaul” the management of the state’s higher education system.

The bill was originally sponsored by representatives Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), Larry Haler (R-Richland), Hans Zeiger (R-Puyallup) and Troy Kelley (R-Tacoma) in response to “years of concern” by the Washington state business community.

The bill will affect six four-year public universities: the University of Washington, Washington State University, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University and Evergreen State College. Thirty-four community and technical colleges will also be affected.

The institutions affected will undergo “major expansion,” including building new institutions, campuses, branches or centers, or conversion of existing campuses, branches or centers.

The house voted 72-26 in favor of the bill.

Under House Bill 2483, a 10-member “Student Achievement Council” will develop a 10-year plan for the state’s higher education system. The council will consist of members of the higher education institutions affected, workforce training, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and five governor-appointed citizen members, including one student member.

The 10-year plan will be submitted to the state governor and legislature by Dec. 1 and updated every two years.

According to the bill document, the 10-year plan created by the student achievement council will “[increase] educational attainment, including improving student transitions from secondary to postsecondary education and training and between and among postsecondary institutions.”

The bill cites studies indicating “successful participation in higher education” by residents of Washington state is the lowest in the nation.

According to the bill, by increasing educational attainment, the legislature hopes to develop citizens “more capable of critical thinking, more aware of their world and its diversity, more creative in their problem-solving, and more successful in addressing social and economic challenges of the future in an informed and thoughtful way.”

“Thousands of our citizens need a degree or a certificate to get a better job or start a new career,” Seaquist said in the press release. “Today we have taken a major step toward making sure all our citizens can get the education they need.”

The bill also focuses on the state economy. The bill cites education as “perhaps the most important engine of economic growth and individual and financial health.”

Seaquist also said he was pleased with the cooperation of both parties in the creation of this legislation.

“Working closely with the governor, I found broad agreement with our university leaders, our students, and our faculty,” Seaquist said.