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Washington State’s Higher Education Board Drafts 10-year Plan


The Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board got an earful when it traveled the state asking citizens to tell them what needs to be fixed about the way Washington educates people after high school.

Ann Daley, executive director of the board, said people at six public forums were passionately opinionated on a wide range of topics from college being too expensive, to a disconnect between available jobs and the enrollment slots for learning the skills to do these jobs.

She says that explains why the board’s draft 10-year strategic plan for Washington higher education is so broad and ambitious. The draft plan was released Wednesday before discussion at Thursday’s board meeting. The plan is due to the Legislature and the governor by mid-December.

The board’s previous strategic plans focused more on expected demand for college placement and the money to pay for higher enrollment. This plan takes a more philosophical approach, because the Legislature asked for a 10-year plan instead of the usual two-to four-year look ahead. But it does include some of the same demographic projections.

The report predicts that by 2020, Washington will need 296,000 slots at state universities and colleges, an increase of 61,500 full-time equivalent student slots. That translates into adding slightly more than 2 percent capacity per year.

By 2030, nearly 40 percent of the K-12 population will be minority students and most will come from low-income families. Daley said this change in demographics should be seen as an opportunity for a more diverse college student population in the future.

“We need to be thoughtful and effective in how we build aspirations and provide education programs for these groups of people,” she said.

She said the report can be broken down to two main themes: the state needs to provide more post-high school education opportunities and it needs to make sure higher education intersects with the economic needs of Washington.

“We need to have graduates who can compete for the jobs available,” Daley said.

The 67-page report is filled with recommendations:

Keep growing the state’s higher education system to teach more students. Since 1996, Washington’s public education system has grown by 23 percent, but the report says it needs to keep going because the student population in Washington is expected to continue to grow.

Make more room for nontraditional students, such as adults returning to college.

Provide education where and when people need it. Provide the support people need such as child care to enable nontraditional students to attend college.

Reach out to undereducated adults and new immigrants to meet their college needs.

Mentor low-income and minority students toward college. Washington ranks 32nd nationally in the percentage of low-income students who continue their education past high school, the report said. Daley said if more low-income and minority students aren’t encouraged to attend college, higher education enrollment could drop in the future.

Revise financial aid programs to assist more potential students.

Help universities turn their research discoveries into moneymaking opportunities.

Continue to build new college buildings and keep existing buildings and equipment up-to-date.

Create higher expectations for all K-12 students. Help students embrace these higher expectations of themselves because a high school education is not enough.

Expand opportunities for early college work, such as AP classes and the Running Start program and make sure people know that Running Start also can be used for work force training such as learning a trade.

Improve online information about college opportunities, transfer requirements and financial aid.

Daley expects the draft plan will be edited before being sent to the Legislature because the recommendations are so broad. Revision and implementation of the plan will continue after the Legislature digests the report and makes suggestion.

“We’ll be assigning ourselves ongoing work to do,” Daley said.

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