Washington should maintain its commitment to the goals contained in the state’s 2008 Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education, even though they were adopted under far less challenging economic circumstances than exist today, the HECB has recommended.
Continued support for the Strategic Master Plan goals was one of the key recommendations in an update to the Strategic Master Plan approved at a recent HECB board meeting. An update of the 10-year plan is required every four years.
Broadly stated, the original plan called for the state to:
- Increase educational attainment to create prosperity and opportunity;
- Promote economic growth and innovation; and
- Monitor and fund higher education for results.
The 2008 plan—the first higher education master plan with a 10-year planning horizon—was prepared by the HECB and endorsed by the Legislature only months before the full force of the recession hit. The resulting setbacks for the state economy and revenue reductions for state government have slowed efforts to make progress toward the plan’s goals.
For example, the state is now well short of being on track to meet its 2018 amended degree production targets. Although some gains are being made, achieving the goals will take longer than originally planned.
Even if the 1.7 percent current annual rate of increase in bachelor’s degree production could be sustained, the state would not reach its original 2018 goal until 2025. And many factors, including state funding, could influence whether that extended timeframe was realistic.
Additional budget cuts of nearly $170 million have been proposed for higher education in the second half of this biennium. Cuts in the State Need Grant and State Work Study programs also have been proposed. Each of these decisions could impact institutional capacity to deliver degrees by reducing course offerings and sections, and by causing students to withdraw from degree programs before completing them.
Both the 2008 strategic plan and the 2012 update stress that failure to meet degree production goals will have a negative impact on the state’s future economic growth and on the quality of life in Washington as measured by higher incarceration rates, increased government payments for social services, and increased basic health care costs.
An advisory committee for the plan update considered whether the degree goals might be too ambitious. However, after additional study, they concluded the goals remain the right ones for Washington if the state is to compete effectively in the national and global economies in the years ahead. Some have suggested the goals aren’t ambitious enough.
The advisory committee developed a set of seven ‘next steps’ needed to maintain momentum on the goals identified in the original 2008 plan. Among these are continued state support for the College Bound Scholarship program, maintaining funding for the State Need Grant program, and improved K-12 – postsecondary pathways.
Key recommendations included in the 2012 plan update:
- Increase capacity for higher education to serve more students. Expand enrollment capacity utilizing existing higher education facilities and online options. Grow capacity in high employer demand programs of study, recognizing the higher cost of these programs.
- Maintain commitment to access for low-income students. Renew commitment to, and value of, the State Need Grant program.
- Build on efforts to increase transitions and completion. Provide promised financial support and mentoring to low-income College Bound Scholarship students who will start arriving on college campuses next year. Accommodate transfer students so those who are part way to degrees can complete.
- Focus a simplified accountability funding initiative on increasing degree completion and improving the quality of education. Align incentives with state goals for educational attainment while recognizing institutional and sector missions. Reward improvements rather than goals or targets. Align higher education with state needs by providing accountability with other partners, including the Legislature.
- Define and develop K-12 through postsecondary program pathways, especially in high employer demand majors and careers. Provide incentives for degrees in STEM, high employer demand and critical state need areas. Leverage state investment in the Opportunity Scholarship fund and Opportunity Expansion programs to meet labor market demand. Encourage business and industry leaders to assist the colleges in innovation.
- Promote programs that enable students to earn college degrees sooner. Programs include Launch Year, Prior Learning Assessment, CTC Alternate Math Pathway, I-BEST, and pre-college reform.
More information about the Strategic Master Plan Update process is posted on the HECB website.