TOM VOGT Proposals target more efficiency in schools
Friday, May 21, 2004 

Columbian staff writer
The Columbian Publishing Co. P.O. Box 180, Vancouver, WA 98666

The secret for getting into college: Pick rich parents. That approach might not work for everybody, so Washington’s higher-ed leaders are thinking about other ways to get more students into the state’s colleges. They met Thursday morning at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus in the first public hearing for the state’s new master plan for higher education.

The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board is looking to turn around the way Washington funds higher education: The funding proposal would not be based on the number of students who enter, but on the number who leave with diplomas. Other proposals would create three-year options for baccalaureate degrees, and improve the process through which students transfer from two-year colleges to four-year universities.

What they have in common is boosting the efficiency of the state’s higher-ed system. That would help ease two problems: a growing demand for access to college, and a reluctance on the part of the state to increase college funding.

“Those are significant issues, and the state is scrambling to bring them together,” said Hal Dengerink, chancellor of WSU Vancouver.

Sam Smith, a member of the HEC Board, said he is concerned about how access to higher education is slipping away from those who need it most. “Your chances of getting into college are directly proportional to your family income,” said Smith, former president of WSU’s four-campus system.

The HEC proposal generating the most buzz is the funding-formula switch, which “promotes and rewards completion of degrees and certificates, rather than merely funding the number of students who are enrolled,” according to a draft of the master plan.

There needs to be a reward for getting people through college swiftly, said Bob Craves, chairman of the HEC Board. The proposal acknowledges that the mission of technical and community colleges is not limited to providing degrees.

But even people who are in academic programs sometimes leave school to go to work, and they should be counted as successes, said Sandy Wall, director of the State Board for Technical and Community Colleges. Several people from the four-year realm also cautioned against adopting a funding system that ignores the realities of today’s college population.

“We see a large number of students now who take time out to go to work to pay for increases in tuition or for family needs,” said Jim Huckabay, a geology professor at Central Washington University. “How do you deal with someone who has attended three or four institutions before graduating, and how do you recognize the investment each institution has made in that student?”

Huckabay and Gail Stygall, associate English professor at the University of Washington, are co-chairs of the state’s council of faculty representatives.

Stygall said she has been hearing several concerns from the faculty members she represents.

“Graduation rates are sensitive to family and student incomes,” Stygall said, and she also pointed to curriculum and admission issues. “If production of degrees becomes critical, there are concerns about curriculum requirements dropping. Students might be admitted on the basis of who is the better bet to graduate.”

“Part-timers account for 40 percent of all students nationally,” said Wendy Rader-Konofalski, with Washington’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The group represents the state’s community college instructors, as well as faculty at Eastern Washington and Central Washington.

The proposal would “provide a perverse incentive to stop serving students with problems,” Rader-Konofalski said. But those students, she continued, are “profiles in dedication and persistence.”

TOM VOGT covers higher education for The Columbian. Contact him at 360-759-8008 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Previously: The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board produced its last master plan in 2000.

What’s new: The 2004 draft plan had its first public hearing Thursday in Vancouver, with hearings Monday in Wenatchee, May 28 in SeaTac and June 2 in Spokane.

What’s next: Board members hope to approve the 2004 plan in July.

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