It's no secret that state colleges and universities are going to get hammered in the final 2011-13 state budget being negotiated by the state House and Senate budget leaders.
The Senate budget would cut $643 million from universities and colleges. The Senate offsets part of the cut by allowing tuition increases of 16 percent for the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University; 14 percent for Central and The Evergreen State College; 11 percent for Eastern and 12 percent for community colleges.
The House would cut $603 million while allowing tuition increases of 13 percent for UW, WSU and Western, 11.5 percent for Eastern, Central and Evergreen and 11 percent for community colleges.
With cuts looming and tuition increases inevitable, we were pleased to see lawmakers pass a bill that encourages the four-year colleges and universities to develop accelerated baccalaureate degree programs that will allow academically qualified students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in three years without attending summer classes or enrolling in more than a full-time class load during the regular academic year.
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Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Substitute Senate Bill 5442 into law on April 18. It takes effect 90 days later.
Three years for a bachelor’s degree is not unheard of. Nine percent of Evergreen graduates finish their baccalaureate program in three years.
State officials say requirements for the accelerated program at state and private universities vary. Most often the programs require students to attend summer school or amass college credits during their high school years — generally by taking advance placement courses or attending programs such as Washington’s Running Start, which gives high school students a jump on college credits.
The University of Washington has a program called The Husky Advantage that allows students to graduate in three years through careful course planning.
Under the new law the state and regional universities and TESC may develop three-year degree programs and submit them to the Higher Education Coordinating Board for approval. The programs must be designed so that students can achieve their goal of a bachelor’s degree without attending summer classes or enrolling in more than a full-time class load during the regular academic year. The law says that qualified students enrolled in the program must be allowed to begin coursework within their academic major field during their first term or semester of enrollment.
The legislation was passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities — 91-3 in the House and 46-3 in the state Senate.
Supporters are right when they say the new measure will help mitigate some of the effects of deep budget cuts to Washington’s higher education system.
“Economically, politically and for the students’ future, it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, the bill’s primary sponsor.
Higher Education Coordinating Board deputy director Jan Ignash notes that universities in Washington are already 11 percent overenrolled, so having a plan to help administrators free up more space by getting students out the door in three instead of four years should be enticing.
“It elevates the whole issue when the Legislature comes out and passes a law,” Ignash said.
Mike Reilly, the director of the state’s Council of Presidents, which includes the presidents of all six of the public four-year schools in Washington, said the colleges and universities likely will require that students take some college level courses in high school to boost their credits. They also could include college credit for interenships.
What remains to be seen, Reilly said, is whether students are attracted to the new programs. He said it’s important to remember that college is about more than just classes, and some students might prefer the experience of extracurricular activities to an intense, three-year focus on academics.
But those students — and their parents — with a weary hand on their wallet, will likely find a 25 percent reduction in tuition by graduating a year early to be an incentive to focus on a rigorous class schedule.
With state budget cuts and tuition increases likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the three-year-to-degree program makes good sense for colleges and universities, students and their parents.