New council looks at ways to get more kids into college

By Katherine Long

Seattle Times higher-education reporter

A new state council charged with getting more students to go to college has called for sweeping reforms in the state’s higher-education system and will spend the next year figuring out the fixes.

The Student Achievement Council was created by the Legislature last year to replace the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB), which worked to increase Washington’s college-going rate for high-school graduates.

Former U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, who is heading the new council, thinks it has a better chance of improving college-going numbers because it includes representatives from the state superintendent’s office, the community and technical colleges and the state’s private colleges.

The HECB was focused primarily on the state’s four-year schools — the five universities and one four-year college.

The council has a December 2013 deadline to create a 10-year road map for steering more students into college or technical school.

“The changing environment in which we exist makes our decisions even more consequential,” said Baird, citing global competition, a higher level of skills required by many employers and the use of technology — including online classes — that is changing the way students learn.

Baird, a former college professor, said the council will hold eight outreach meetings around the state to find out what’s lacking in the state’s K-12 and higher-education systems.

He said he is especially interested in asking employers if college or technical-school graduates are leaving school with the skills they need to go to work.

In recent years, several national reports have called into question whether college is rigorous enough, and whether students are leaving with the necessary skills.

In December, the council released Critical Crossroads: A Call for Action, a report that calls the state’s inability to provide access to higher education for many students an emerging crisis.

“If changes are not made, we face the serious risk to our economy and democracy of creating two Washingtons — not divided by the Cascades or political parties — but based on educational achievement,” the report says.

It identifies obstacles to getting more students to college, including a lack of preparation in high school and rising tuition rates.

The report notes that three-fifths of high-school graduates need to take remedial classes — usually in math — in community college.

The average price of tuition at a state school has gone from 5 percent of median family income to 11 percent in a little more than a decade.

The report says the state is not providing enough students with the skills they’ll need in the new economy and the problem is particularly acute among minority students, the fastest-growing segment of the college-age population.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter: @katherinelong.2