Several new policies and initiatives are being implemented on Washington State college campuses this year:
- Increased access: Early in 2014, Gov. Inslee signed Washington state’s version of the Dream Act, called the “REAL Hope Act,” which enables undocumented state residents who graduated from Washington state high schools to access state need grants for college tuition, expanding access to higher education for Washington state students.
- Help for veterans/active duty: Several bills related to military personnel and veterans were signed into law by the governor this spring. Two specifically related to higher education: (1) automatic in-state tuition for veterans and their families and active military who reside in Washington, but are stationed out-of-state, and (2) offering academic credit for military training. (Each college is responsible for setting its own policies for translating military work into college credit.)
- Bachelor’s of Applied Science Degrees: About 40% of Washington’s two-year colleges will offer one or more of these degrees in the 2014-15 academic year. See earlier report for more details.
- Alternative high school diploma options: Recent changes in GED testing (both content and cost), federal Pell grants (“Ability to Benefit” option dropped, thus making financial aid eligibility dependent on diploma or GED), and Washington’s increased investment in iBEST and competency-based education models have inspired the new “High School 21+” diploma option. Launched in late 2013, adults over 21 years of age can earn diplomas from community and technical colleges by demonstrating competency in reading, writing, and math, as ascertained through transcript evaluation and prior learning experiences (e.g. military, work) and supplemented through Basic Skills and college course work (at Basic Skills tuition rates).
Additionally, some policies already in place or on the horizon may significantly impact higher education in Washington State.
- Higher costs to students: Cuts to higher education since the recession have led to sharp increases in tuition rates, the second highest increases in the nation. In recent years, to help make up for lost revenue, changes in state laws enabled colleges to significantly increase tuition and fee rates. (See also “How Washington Pays for Higher Education.”
- Prior Learning Assessments: Legislation passed in 2011 and 2012 mandate that state colleges and universities institute methods to award college credit for learning outside the college setting. Methods include standardized tests (e.g., the College Board’s CLEP test), course challenge exams, learning portfolios, among others.
- Competency-based degrees: Still in the early stages, Washington’s two-year college system plans to offer an all online competency-based transfer degrees (starting with business in 2015), using the state-wide Canvas LMS and/or WAOL (Washington Online) infrastructure and OERs (Washington’s Open Course Library).