A task force charged with finding stable money to pay for higher education in Washington state has some ideas it wants the Legislature to consider.
At the top of its list announced Monday: Find someone other than state government to pay the bill.
The task force formed by Gov. Chris Gregoire wants donations from individuals and corporations to finance a new $1 billion scholarship fund. And it wants to allow state colleges to raise their own tuition to keep Washington tuition and fees comparable to charges at similar institutions in other states. Currently the Legislature sets tuition.
The task force chaired by Microsoft Corp. executive Brad Smith was asked to find ways to increase the number of degrees awarded by 30 percent over the next decade, while dealing with budget deficits and finding a stable source of money for higher education.
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“We believe that the current economic challenges facing the state underscore the need for a new long-term plan,” Smith said at a news conference Monday.
The 16 business, government and education leaders have met privately six times since July to brainstorm and decide which recommendations to give to the Legislature. State law didn’t require the group to hold public meetings because it was not given a task by the Legislature.
Now lawmakers will decide whether to consider the task force’s proposals and whether they will be proposed as bills. Phone calls to the leaders of the House and Senate higher education committees were not immediately returned Monday.
Gregoire told a group of kids, parents and task force members gathered at a Seattle middle school that she was delighted with the recommendations. She said she would do whatever she could to encourage the Legislature to consider them during its 2011 session, even though she’s expecting it to be a tough session.
Smith said the task force members also planned to advocate for their ideas in Olympia.
Gregoire advised the children at Aki Kurose Middle School not to worry about what’s happening in the budget today but to focus instead on getting ready for college. She emphasized that jobs of the future will require college degrees.
“This recession has made this very plain: There are education haves and have-nots,” the governor said, noting that the state unemployment rate for people with college degrees was half as high as the unemployment rate for those without a higher education.
The proposed tuition-setting freedom – similar to an idea that the 2010 Legislature turned down – would be part of a complicated formula that would let tuition go up and down in contrast to state budget contributions to higher education.
University leaders have been asking for more tuition flexibility to help them control their own budgets.
The Washington Pledge Scholarship Program would seek to collect $1 billion over the next decade from individual donors and businesses. To attract corporate donations, the task force wants to give businesses a Washington tax credit once the state’s budget stabilizes.
To improve the state’s efficiency at granting college degrees, the task force recommends an incentive program that would give money to colleges and universities that meet graduation goals. It would also like to see colleges focus on student retention.
The group expanded its assignment to also include efforts to increase the number of college degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The task force also decided the state should, by 2018, award at least 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees to students from ethnic groups that have not been well represented on college campuses.
The task force suggests combining these goals by making the new scholarship fund give special priority to students seeking science or technology degrees.
A list of various other money-saving ideas concluded the task force’s report:
Eliminate underused majors and courses.
Offer more online classes, particularly for large introductory courses.
Create three-year bachelor degree programs.
Limit state support for students taking credits beyond what they need to earn a degree.
Test students on prior learning experiences and give them credit.
Recognize college work done during high school.