The new executive director of the state community college system wants more money to expand a new program that gives students a specific road map to a career.
The new leader of the state’s community college system plans to continue the fight for more funding from the Legislature, including money for a new program that makes it easier for students to chart a path to a degree.
In 2016, the community college system received about as much money from the Legislature — $727 million — as it did in 2007, in inflation-adjusted dollars. That’s why the colleges are asking the Legislature for an additional $200 million for the 2017-19 biennium, said Jan Yoshiwara, who’s been tapped to be executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).
Because money has been so scarce for the past decade, many of the colleges have cut student services like advising, tutoring and library hours, and have forestalled building repairs. And many colleges can’t keep up with the demand for courses, meaning students struggle to fit classes into their schedules, which can increase the time it takes to finish their degrees, Yoshiwara said.
About $80 million of the legislative request would be used for “guided pathways,” the name for a restructuring of class offerings that represents one of the most significant changes in how colleges try to help students find a career path.
Yoshiwara thinks that guided pathways could substantially increase the college completion rate by giving students a very clear road map for their college careers, making it more likely that a student will sign up for the right classes and finish a degree.
Under guided pathways, students are given an outline of the classes they should be taking based on the career they are pursuing. “It’s something that research has proven to make a big difference,” Yoshiwara said.
Five of the state’s community colleges — South Seattle, Everett, Pierce, South Puget Sound and Peninsula — are piloting guided pathways, but the state board has been offering workshops on how to implement the system to every college, and all have participated. “Everybody wants to do a better job by their students,” she said.
Yoshiwara said it takes at least five years for the guided-pathways model to take root in a college, and it will take at least 10 years for all the colleges to get the system down. But, she added, “I don’t think it’s the kind of thing where you finish. It really is a continuous improvement process.”
Although the state’s 34 community and technical colleges are knitted together in a system overseen by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, each college has a lot of autonomy. Each has its own board of trustees, hires its own president and decides on the mix of programs and courses it offers.
The state board is responsible for distributing state and federal funds to the colleges, setting tuition and approving new degree programs. It also thinks strategically about the needs of the entire state system, Yoshiwara said.
Yoshiwara has worked for the community college system since 1978 and has been with the State Board since 1984. She will start the new role in early June.
“I love the work we do,” she said. Community colleges serve “the people for whom getting a college degree can make the biggest difference in the trajectories of their lives.”