Office of Planning and Budgeting

Last summer, Governor Gregoire created a Higher Education Task force, comprising both public and private leaders, and charged them with proposing a new funding strategy for public higher education, as well as new ideas for increasing institutional accountability. The Task Force released its report yesterday, January 3rd, recommending three major reforms to higher education policy in Washington State.

First, the group suggested that tuition setting authority be given to the universities to help make up for budget cuts from the legislature. Based on their proposal, the institutions would use a formula to determine appropriate tuition rates, taking into account state appropriations, tuition at peer institutions, and enrollment levels.

Second, the Task Force proposed the creation of a Washington Pledge Scholarship Program, which would be funded by private donors. They hope the fund would reach $ 1 billion by the end of the decade. Corporations would receive a tax credit for donating, although that benefit would not kick in until overall tax revenue returned to 2008 levels.

Third, they recommended that the state give cash incentives to universities that meet certain degree production targets. In addition, they encourage universities to make plans to reach retention goals set forth by the state.

Finally, the Task Force listed other money-saving strategies, such as including more online introductory-level classes, developing three-year degrees, giving more credit for college-level work done in high school and at other institutions, and eliminating underused degree programs.

Make sure to check the State Relations blog for a round-up of some of the local press coverage relating to this report.

Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the US Senate HELP Committee, has released another report on the practices of the for-profit higher education industry, this time focusing on whether or not such institutions are taking advantage of US veterans in an effort to capture newly increased GI Bill education benefits (read our earlier posts on this issue: Senator Tom Harkin and the HELP Committee Continue to Investigate For-Profit Colleges, and  Under Federal Fire, For-Profit College Point Finger at Publics).

The New York Times published Wednesday a detailed article on this topic, Profits and Scrutiny for Colleges Courting Veterans, that included a host of primary source documents.

Senator Harkin has moved a hearing on the topic from early December to a yet to be determined day in early 2011. Because the Senate will remain in Democratic control, Harkin will continue as Chairman of the HELP Committee and is expected to carry forward his investigation of this rapidly expanding sector of higher education, which relies almost entirely on federal student aid dollars to generate large profits for shareholders while many students drop out  and face high levels of education loan debt. Some speculate that recent Republican gains in the Senate and House may hamper the likelihood of passing strong regulatory legislation in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Education is in the process of implementing new regulatory rules aimed at tightening oversight on the sector (see previous post: New Federal Higher Ed Regulation Published Today).

We will continue to monitor this ongoing story, as well as some calls for the federal government to extend their scrutiny to traditional institutions.

The Seattle PI drew attention to two major UW  Initiatives that were recently highlighted in a message from Provost Mary Lidstrom. Be sure to check out the new websites detailing both of these new efforts:

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