Inside Opinion

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Tag: community colleges

May
6th

A Web raid on traditional higher ed

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The Internet keeps on disrupting higher education – sometimes even in a good way. The latest example is the Open Course Library just completed by Washington’s two-year colleges.

The library (opencourselibrary.org) is an online trove of free courses and free or low-cost textbooks developed by local faculty members. The materials cover 81 of Washington’s most popular lower-division classes – principles of accounting, microbiology, symbolic logic, English composition, etc.

The whole enterprise, begun in 2011, bypasses the traditional trappings of college. No big, expensive textbooks, no snoozing in the back of lecture halls, no classrooms.

Price is the selling point. The courses are free, with downloadable content, and the textbooks cost at most $30. In contrast, commercial textbooks can cost well upward of $100 apiece.
The price difference can be decisive for a student struggling along on a meager income. One poll by USA Today suggested that 40 percent of college students didn’t buy a required textbook for lack of money.

The Open Course Library was a joint venture of Washington’s two-year colleges, the Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the colleges provided the intellectual grunt work; lawmakers and the foundation provided $1.5 million in start up money.

This shouldn’t be oversold. Commercial textbooks can be written by academic giants, designed by pedagogical experts, and difficult to match at the local level. Easy as they are to vilify, textbook publishers are a critical part of higher education; it might not be a good thing if competing freebies forced them to slash their investments in high-end books, DVDs and websites.
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Oct.
27th

Two-year colleges: Stimulus tool No. 1 for higher employment

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

There are two explanations for last year’s 6 percent drop in community college enrollment.

One is worth a party. According to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, more Washingtonians are finding jobs and drifting away from school.

The other is disturbing. Marty Brown, executive director of the board, says that rising costs are likely scaring off would-be students.

That’s pretty much self-evident, given that tuition has risen by 12 percent each of the last two years. It now costs $4,000 a year to attend a community college – about what it cost to attend the University of Washington 10 years ago.

The Legislature has been busily dismantling Washington’s public colleges and universities since the Great Recession hit. As in past recessions, lawmakers have treated the higher education system as a piggy bank – something to break and raid to spare other state services. They’ve reduced appropriations to colleges by an estimated $1.4 billion since 2009.

Yes, higher education must suffer its share of cutbacks when money gets scarce. But few if any states have cannibalized their colleges the way Washington has; the Legislature has cut direct funding to its universities by as much as half, to its community colleges by roughly a quarter.
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Feb.
14th

Two-year colleges on the front lines of economic recovery

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Tacoma Community College President Pamela Transue doesn’t mince words when she talks about how budget cuts are hurting her school and Washington’s other two-year institutions.

“We’re watching the destruction of the educational system in our state,” she told The News Tribune editorial board in a recent visit by the five presidents of Pierce County’s community and technical colleges.

Since 2008, state funding for the two-year colleges has fallen by more than $1,000 per student and will fall to $1,200 less per student by 2013. The schools have cut staff, frozen salaries for five years, eliminated programs, made other efficiencies – and still were able to serve 19 percent more students since 2008.
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Feb.
4th

Lawmakers: Stop the bleeding of college opportunity

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Higher education must bear its share of the pain as the Legislature squeezes another billion-plus dollars out of the current state budget. It should not bear more than its share.

It’s a longstanding legislative tradition to use the state’s higher education system – universities, community and technical colleges – as a rainy day fund when the economy turns bad and cash reserves run out. College opportunity isn’t protected by the Washington Constitution, though it should be, and it’s often the path of least resistance for lawmakers trying to protect their political darlings from budget cuts.

Over the last three years, the Legislature has already whacked its support for post-secondary education by a stunning one-third or more, depending on the school.

For the University of Washington, funding is down a staggering 50 percent. The state’s community and technical colleges are expecting to serve 10,000 fewer students this year.

At a town hall meeting in Seattle this week, Bruce Shepard – president of Western Washington University – reported that a brain drain has begun, with schools from other states cherry-picking from among this state’s top faculty members.

“No other state has found it necessary to slash higher education to the extent that the state of Washington has,” he said.
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