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WSU Government Relations Newsbeat

Student data bill heard in House committee

Legislation that would enable Washington’s public institutions of higher education to receive basic contact information for graduating high school students in the state was heard in the House Education committee yesterday. SB 5593 would also have the colleges and universities report back to high schools where students enrolled in their postsecondary programs.

Currently, colleges and universities rely on data collected from students participating in certain standardized placement tests and exams. If enacted, the bill would require the state’s K-12 Coordinating body – the Office of Public Education Supervision (OSPI) – and the public universities and colleges to enter into data-sharing agreements. School districts would provide basic directory information about students graduating from their high schools which would allow the public 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities to share postsecondary opportunities with their students. Only half of the state’s high school graduates receive information from these opportunities. This effort, supported by WSU, would help students, who have been underrepresented in the college-going culture learn that postsecondary education is achievable and affordable.

The bill cleared the Senate last week and now awaits a vote by the Education committee.

Legislation allowing tuition rates to be realized sooner heard in House

A key metric that is used to calculate tuition rates would be made available earlier under Senate Bill 5079, heard in the House Postsecondary, Education and Workforce Development committee for the first time today.

The bill requires the state budget office, the Office of Financial Management, to communicate the maximum allowable increase in tuition to Washington’s public baccalaureates in October. Current law does not provide the calculation until March, delaying the time that university regents can determine the rate of tuition until May for an academic year that begins in August.

Collin Bannister, the legislative representative for ASWSU, testified in support of this bill during the hearing. He shared his story as a Pullman first generation student noting how this “good bill will truly help students.” He shared:

“As things currently are due to laws, students do not find out what their financial aid package is until after they have been fully accepted and likely graduated high school. Less than a year ago I, myself, was a senior at Pullman high school. As a first-generation student applying to college, the whole process was very confusing and there were many unknowns. The greatest of which being the cost and if I could afford to attend. I am not alone in my apprehension. The Washington round table found in a recent study that 63% of students listed the number one barrier to pursuing higher education as cost. If aid packages and costs are released sooner. This will give students the time they need to financially prepare. And in some cases, even discover that with aid, they actually can go to college.”

The bill moved unanimously out of the Senate 49-0 earlier last month. You can find Bannister’s remarks in full below.

Cougar Women’s Basketball team celebrated as conference champions by state Senate

State senators yesterday took a moment to recognize the WSU Women’s basketball team and their triumphant Pac-12 Conference Championship – a first in program history.

Senator Sam Hunt, a WSU alumnus, remarked that “This has been a historic week for WSU athletics. Yesterday, the WSU women won the Pac-12 conference basketball championship under the leadership of Kamie Ethridge – the coach who came in 4 years ago when they won 9 games, they have won 23 games now. They beat UCLA 65 to 61. And, a special shout out to Charlisse Leger-Walker who was the most valuable player in the tournament and Bella Murekatete who is just an amazing basketball player and leader, and it is great to wish them to best as they head to the NCAA tournament.”

Senator Mark Schoesler, whose district represents Pullman, added “…Last week, it was the first time that WSU women had beaten a top 3 ranked national opponent, Utah…”

Yesterday marked the 57th day of the 105-day 2023 legislative session. You can view Senator Hunt’s and Senator Schoesler’s remarks below:

Data equity bill advances from Senate

The state’s K-12 coordinating entity, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and public institutions of higher education would be required to enter into data sharing agreements to help inform Washington high school students about postsecondary educational opportunities, according to a bill passed by the Senate with a vote of 40-8 late Friday.

Senate Bill 5593 requires school districts to work with OSPI to provide information from their high school directories, such as a student’s name, email and mailing addresses, and provide that information through data sharing agreements with the state’s public institutions of higher education by November each year. It also tasks OSPI with identifying a process for providing student enrollment information back to school districts.

Currently, the state’s public colleges and universities provide information regarding postsecondary offerings to roughly half of the high school graduates in the state. Data sharing agreements would help reach the remainder of the high school students who may not otherwise know about these opportunities. Amidst a workforce shortage, the information provided through the agreements would help students, especially those historically underrepresented in the college-going culture, learn that postsecondary education is both attainable and affordable for them. At WSU in 2022, 37 percent of resident undergraduate students paid no tuition and 50 percent of those students graduated with no loan debt, up from 35.6 percent in 2015. Affordability continues to improve as impacts from the Washington College Grant, considered one of the best state financial aid programs in the country, continue to be realized.

WSU, along with the other public baccalaureate institutions and community and technical colleges supported the bill when it was heard in committee. SB 5593 now heads to the House, ahead of Wednesday’s floor cutoff.

Bill to align state college grant with federal standard supported by Senate

A bill that would extend the number of years a student can receive the Washington College Grant was moved out of the Senate with a vote of 48-1 on Thursday afternoon. If passed, SB 5711 would make a student eligible to receive six years or up to 150 percent of the length of the student’s academic program.

The Washington College Grant, previously known as the State Need Grant, was made an entitlement by the Legislature in 2019 under HB 2158 with five years of eligibility. The grant is the state’s largest financial aid program, providing awards to students from low income backgrounds to pursue postsecondary education. As an entitlement program, those who meet the median family income threshold requirements are guaranteed funding. By extending the college grant to six years, the program is brought in line with the Federal Pell Grant, allowing students to leverage support from both grant funds to complete their education.

Collin Bannister, the legislative representative for ASWSU, testified in support of the bill when it was heard last month in the Senate Ways and Means committee. Bannister shared:

“This bill will increase graduation and retention rates in college students, not only at WSU but also all public universities across the state. Over a third of WSU students are current college grant recipients and may not have attended without it. Being a college grant recipient myself, I am able to be here representing my peers.”

The bill moves to the House, ahead of Wednesday’s floor cutoff. You can find Bannister’s testimony below.

Senate passes bill that would make student homelessness pilot program permanent

Senate Bill 5702, which would make permanent a state pilot program that offers support services to students facing homelessness and foster youth, cleared the Senate on Thursday with a 46-3 vote.

The Students Experiencing Homelessness and Foster Youth Pilot Program was first established by the Legislature in 2019 under SB 5800, which made available certain basic needs accommodations like short-term housing and reduced-price meals at certain institutions of higher education. In addition to making the program permanent, the bill this year would expand to all public colleges and universities in the state, including the state’s tribal college, Northwest Indian College.

WSU has participated in the pilot program since its inception and strongly supports the effort to make it permanent. This bill now heads to the House.

Bill to expand alternative jet fuels research and use clears Senate

A bill that seeks to facilitate the use and production of alternative jet fuels passed off the Senate floor Wednesday evening with a vote of 46-2. Among preferential tax adjustments, SB 5447 would also codify a work group convened by Washington State University.

Initially convened in 2012, the Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Work Group is tasked with gathering stakeholders from scientists to industry experts in order to develop recommendations for business, research, and policy published through a report to the Legislature and the governor. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Andy Billig, remarked about WSU’s expertise in this area “WSU, along with MIT, are the leading academic institutions in research for sustainable aviation fuels. In fact, WSU is a FAA Center for Excellence in sustainable aviation fuels.”

WSU researchers are exploring energy sources, testing, supply-chain logistics and policy in the quest for sustainable air transportation. WSU is a co‑leader of ASCENT with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a consortium of research universities, government agencies, national laboratories, and private industry partners convened by the Federal Aviation Administration nearly a decade ago.

WSU testified in support of Section 5 of the bill when it was heard in the Senate Environment & Energy committee in January. You can watch that testimony on the bill below:


The bill now heads to the opposite chamber, where it once again navigates the committee process in the House.

February collections report near November forecast

Collections did not deviate far from the November revenue forecast, according to a monthly Economic and Revenue update released by the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

The February report showed tax collections marginally higher than expected, up $5.2 million or 0.2 percent. Including the other monthly reports since the November forecast, tax collections are cumulatively up by $88.6 million or 1.1 percent.  The additional growth came from increases in Revenue Act collections, such as sales, B&O and utility taxes, which were offset by underperforming property tax collections which returned lower than forecasted for the month.

The reality of a relatively flat February report suggests the next revenue forecast set to be released on March 20th may project small or stagnant growth in the budget outlook. Legislators will utilize that forecast to draft their budget proposals, before agreeing on a compromised final budget by Sine Die on April 23rd.

Bill to approve tuition rates sooner voted unanimously off Senate floor

Legislation that would provide Washington’s public universities the ability to set tuition sooner was voted off the Senate floor with unanimous support Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 5079 would require the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to communicate the maximum allowable increase in tuition under state law to public higher education institutions by October 1 for the following academic year. This would allow universities the ability to establish tuition rates and finalize financial aid offers earlier in the recruitment cycle. Currently that doesn’t happen until May at WSU for an academic year that begins in August.

The prime sponsor leading this bipartisan effort, Sen. Braun, explained in his speech just prior to the 49-0 floor vote that:

“OFM makes the calculation in March of each year, so as the schools go through the admission and recruiting process, and they send their letters out in the Fall, they cannot say for certain what tuition will be…Instead of making the calculation in March of each year, let’s do the calculation in October so that schools have certainty as they make their offers of admission and parents and students have certainty as they determine what the best step is for them.”

The bill was supported by WSU when it was heard in committee in January. The bill now heads to the House. You can view the full remarks on the bill’s passage off the Senate below.

New engineering building will be a game changer

This legislative session, WSU is asking state lawmakers to support construction of a new engineering student services building on the Pullman campus which touches all three pillars of the university-wide capital budget request:

  • It represents a high university priority found on a streamlined and disciplined list of requests
  • It supports the elimination of deferred maintenance by facilitating the eventual demolition of aging Dana Hall; and
  • It most notably leverages state support with private fundraising

The university is requesting $40 million in the 2023-25 capital budget the Legislature will send to the governor in April. The governor already has proposed funding the project in his budget proposal released in December. If successful, that will leverage another $40 million being raised privately, which includes generous donations from Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, The Boeing Company, and others. The $80 million investment would provide modern amenities for students in high-demand fields at the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture while also providing core infrastructure replacement in the engineering precinct on the Pullman campus for additional future enhancements.

This modern facility would enable WSU to provide future generations of engineering and computer science students with functional meeting and collaboration space along with advising and tutoring in a single location. This project will also allow WSU to vacate and eventually demolish Dana Hall, which was constructed in 1949. This 90,000 square foot, 73-year-old hall has never been renovated and it lacks appropriate restroom facilities, fundamental ADA access for entering the building or moving between floors, amongst many other structural issues. It has an $18 million deferred maintenance backlog and is one of the highest energy consumers on the Pullman campus.

Conceptual renderings of the proposed building are above and below. New renderings will be generated during the design phase of the project. The facility is expected to be built at the intersection of SE Spokane Street and NE College Avenue.