Learning For Life:

Report of the 2020 Commission
on the Future of Post-Secondary Education

Table of Contents

Our 2020 Vision
An Urgent Imperative
The Starting Point
The Challenge of Change
Sharing the Rewards, Sharing the Responsibility
Keeping the Promise of Hope and Opportunity
The Importance of a Coherent Strategy

Our 2020 Vision

In the year 2020, Washington residents use and benefit from a broad array of world-class technical training and education opportunities. In Washington, anyone who seeks to learn, can - and the result is a culture that honors learning, teaching and research more highly than ever before.

This distinction was achieved following a focused, 25-year effort to raise academic achievement levels in public schools, and to create a seamless system of lifelong learning. It was achieved because the people of Washington and their business and political leaders understood that in an uncertain and fast-changing world, investing in education is an essential prerequisite to a healthy democracy, to the vitality of their economy, and to sustaining the quality of life of their communities and the vibrancy of their cultural life. This understanding has resulted in broadly shared responsibility for supporting and maintaining Washington's community and technical colleges and its public and private colleges, universities, and vocational training programs.

Washington's post-secondary education system was shaped by innovative and courageous educators who found ways to make it more responsive to students' needs, more efficient, and more respected by citizens from every community and every walk of life.

An Urgent Imperative

By the year 2020, our post-secondary education system will need to serve over 100,000 more learners than it served in 1998. This 50% growth will be driven not just by demographics, but also by the advent of a knowledge-based economy in which good jobs require higher levels of skill and knowledge than ever before. And it will be driven by the higher hopes and the academic expectations and abilities of young people who have benefited from this state's relentless focus on high standards in public schools.

We must begin preparing for this explosion in demand for post-secondary education now. In the next ten years, the number of high school graduates knocking on the doors of our post-secondary institutions will increase as the "baby boom echo" grows up. Urgent new demands will swell our post-secondary education system as growing numbers of adults return to the classroom to adapt their skills to a changing economy, to change careers, or to fulfill dreams deferred when they were younger.

Our state simply cannot afford to build new campuses fast enough to serve the growing number of people who need and deserve educational opportunity. But we must find solutions - solutions that preserve the quality of our post-secondary education system, honor and reward the people who teach in it, and open the doors of educational opportunity to a diverse and growing student population.

This will not be easy. We will have to act quickly and decisively, and we will have to support rapid and sustained growth in our post-secondary education system over two decades or more.

This is a duty we dare not shirk. If we fail to provide educational opportunity, we will consign our state to economic decline, and to a growing division between an affluent, educated elite and an uneducated and disaffected underclass. Nothing could be more dangerous to the long-term prospects of our democracy.

The Starting Point

We are proud of Washington's publicly supported post-secondary education system. Our 33 community and technical colleges, our four comprehensive universities, and our two research universities have opened doors of opportunity to generations of Washington residents. Together with Washington's independent universities and colleges and its vocational training providers, our public post-secondary education system has created the educational foundation on which our economy, our civic life and our culture are built.

We have invested billions of dollars over many years in this system because we believe that education is the great equalizer. Our investment in this high-quality post-secondary education system has paid many dividends, but the most important has been access - access to learning, to individual enrichment, and to economic advancement for the people of Washington.

The Challenge of Change

We cannot meet the growing demand for post-secondary education by just doing what we have done in the past. That is why it is critical that we recognize - openly and explicitly - that the challenge of creating a system of lifelong learning for the 21st century will require all of us to change.

To achieve a higher level of learning for a growing population without crippling other vital programs, we need to clarify our priorities, create new partnerships, and design organizational structures that promote innovation. We need to give our post-secondary institutions the tools and incentives they need to improve efficiency and to reduce costs. And we need to increase new capacity to serve both recent high school graduates and older adults.

Our public post-secondary institutions fear that growing enrollment demands will force them to cut costs in ways that compromise the quality of both learning and research. Many feel that this is already happening. At the same time, elected officials seek greater accountability and efficiency in exchange for the state's one billion annual expenditure of taxpayers' dollars. The result is a collision of institutions and regulators - and a growing danger of political gridlock on this issue.

We must find ways to prevent gridlock and promote lasting solutions. State government must make a clear commitment to dependable and sufficient public financing of post-secondary education - and that will inevitably mean increases in funding as enrollments surge.

We must respect and retain the best of the current system, so that it can confront new challenges from a position of strength and confidence. Post-secondary education leaders must become champions of innovation and change, and everyone on the campus must be prepared to participate in change. This will be essential to earning the public's continuing trust and support.

It will not be easy to find and maintain the right balance of performance, innovation, accountability, efficiency, and new investment. To do so, we will need a high level of mutual trust and respect, an open, inclusive public dialogue, and forthright, visionary and bipartisan political and educational leadership.

For all these reasons, we must build on the strengths of today's post-secondary education system, maintain our public commitment to educational opportunity for all, and prepare for a century in which higher levels of learning will be required of all of us.

Sharing the Rewards, Sharing the Responsibility

The post-secondary education system benefits the public as a whole by stimulating economic growth and innovation, by nurturing our artistic and cultural life, and by preparing successive generations of our leaders. Even those who never attend a class benefit from a strong post-secondary education system. These public benefits clearly justify strong public support and investment. At the same time, however, individual learners also benefit from participating in post-secondary education, and this personal benefit justifies the expectation that students will share in the cost of their own education.

These shared benefits require shared responsibility for shaping the post-secondary education system of the next century.

Students and families must understand that in the 21st century, higher levels of skill and knowledge will be required to win and keep good jobs, and that saving for post-secondary training and education is an essential part of every family budget.

Business leaders will have to increase their contribution to upgrading the skills of their own workers, promote an environment of continuous learning, and increase their support and participation in the research that feeds innovation.

Political leaders will need to help the public understand why investing more in our post-secondary education system serves the common good.

And our post-secondary education institutions will need to innovate, to respond to the needs of learners, and to find ways to reduce the costs of education without compromising quality.

Keeping the Promise of Hope and Opportunity

After nine months of research, reflection, and lively discussion, the 2020 Commission has come to consensus on the following package of recommendations to bring our vision to life. We believe that the implementation of these recommendations will build a world-class post-secondary education system that will sustain this state's economic, civic, and cultural vitality, and extend the promise of hope and opportunity to every Washington citizen in the coming century.


Expand Opportunity

  1. Increase the capacity of the post-secondary education system so that by the year 2020, all Washington residents who want to learn will have access to the education or training appropriate to their aspirations and their level of knowledge.

In the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century, post-secondary education will be a prerequisite to entering the economic mainstream. That is why our goal goes beyond historic rates of post-secondary participation.

Even if we were to maintain current state policy, which is to estimate demand simply by recognizing demographic change, we would need a significant system expansion. But that approach will not achieve our 2020 vision. The Commission believes that capacity must be added to respond to three additional factors:

  1. The system must accommodate a higher percentage of better prepared high school students who will want to pursue post-secondary education;
  2. Additional technical training capacity will be needed to prevent shortages of skilled workers; and
  3. More upper division education will be needed by adults who want to remain current in their fields, change careers, or upgrade their skills.

Simply to continue today's level of educational attainment would require serving 60,000 additional learners a year by 2020. But to raise the level of our educational attainment enough to assure our state's success in the 21st century will require making room for approximately 100,000 additional learners each year.


2020 Commission's Vision
for Post-Secondary Education in 2010 and 2020

2020 commission's vision for post-secondary education chart



To fully serve the educational needs of Washington's people and its employers, we must do more than simply respond to those seeking entry to our post-secondary institutions. We must reach out to those who traditionally have been under-represented and under-served by post-secondary education: people from low-income families, people of color, families with no prior experience with post-secondary education and people who live far from traditional campuses. This will require not just system expansion, but also active recruitment of students from these families and communities, and a commitment to adapt service delivery to meet their needs.

We will need to expand every part of our post-secondary education system, and to bring educational opportunity to the residents of every Washington community. We will need to build-out the planned branch campuses of our four-year institutions, and develop the consortia that combine two-and four-year institutions.

We will need an expanded community and technical college system to provide technical training, skill upgrades, retraining of displaced workers, adult basic education, and classes for new immigrants. This system must be nimble enough to respond quickly when new industries and new opportunities emerge. The community and technical colleges' role as the gateway to advanced education will continue to be a vital asset to every community.

We will also need an expanded array of opportunities for advanced learning in our baccalaureate and graduate programs. And we will need to continue to invest in the leading-edge research universities that fuel economic development and technological advancement. To maintain our competitive edge in high-tech, bio-tech and other 21st century industries, Washington must have a comprehensive system of life-long learning that continues to deepen and expand its knowledge base. Although the majority of jobs - even in our most science-driven industries - do not require an advanced degree, we must not underestimate the critical importance of highly-educated specialists, educators, managers, and leaders.

  1. Use all accredited post-secondary education providers to meet the expected surge in demand for post-secondary education.

The state must manage its resources carefully in order to accommodate the explosion of new learners within the next ten years, when the rate of growth in demand will be greatest. This will require finding new ways to stretch the capacity of existing public institutions, and the utilization of independent and for-profit service providers.

The Governor should ask the Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board and the Office of Financial Management to prepare a ten year Enrollment Plan that maps out how we will serve this explosion in demand. In preparing the enrollment plan, proposals should be solicited from administrators of public institutions to stretch capacity by providing evening, weekend, year-round and distance learning opportunities.

Given the immediacy of the increase in demand, the enrollment plan should give priority to strategies that expand capacity without requiring new construction. Priority should also be given to proposals that: a) reduce the cost of delivery by adding capacity at marginal cost, or b) expand programs in high demand/high cost subject areas, subject to the provision of start-up funds. Simultaneously, the state should expedite the build-out of branch campuses that have already been authorized. These campuses are needed now to serve urban communities that lack access to education beyond the community college level.

In addition, this Enrollment Plan should provide for contracting with independent and for-profit providers when public institutions are full. If the state can make agreements with independent providers that expand capacity less expensively than expanding the capacity of full public institutions, then this option should be used.

This Enrollment Plan should be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature for their consideration in the state budget process.

  1. Create a scholarship for all students who earn a Certificate of Mastery and graduate from high school. This scholarship should be sufficient to pay tuition for a minimum of two years of post-secondary education.

This recommendation serves four important public goals:

  1. It strengthens our state's K-12 reform efforts by creating a powerful new incentive for students to master the rigorous academic standards that the state has adopted.
  2. It makes clear that the minimum level of educational attainment necessary to be part of the economic mainstream has risen, and that the "new minimum" requires post-secondary education and periodic skill upgrades.
  3. It puts more power in the hands of education consumers by giving prospective students a wider field of educational choice.
  4. It makes parents and the state partners in saving for the education of the next generation. The mechanics of this scholarship should encourage and supplement family savings to pay for post-secondary education.

All students should know that if they work hard and do well in school, in-state post-secondary education will be available to them. Students may use this scholarship throughout the post-secondary education system, public or private, for technical training leading to a skill certificate, or to an academic credential or degree.

All young people will need the opportunity to achieve the new minimum level of education and training they will need to win a job that pays living wages.

To do this, the state should offer a scholarship, equal to two years tuition at a community or technical college, to all students who attain their Certificate of Mastery and graduate from high school. The scholarship should be applicable to tuition costs at any accredited post-secondary education provider in the state, as long as the student maintains successful progress toward completion of a program.

However, this scholarship will not eliminate the need for families to save for post-secondary education. On the contrary, family savings must be encouraged, and students and their families should understand that over the course of their lives, they will need to build on the educational foundation that this scholarship provides. This scholarship will complement Washington's recently-created pre-paid tuition program as one avenue for stimulating growing awareness of personal and family responsibility for meeting the cost of post-secondary education throughout one's life.

Similarly, the creation of this scholarship does not reduce the state's obligation to maintain its strong financial aid commitment for those least able to afford post-secondary education. In developing the scholarship, the state will need to integrate state and federal financial aid programs and federal tax credits to create a simplified program that is easy for students and their families to understand and use.

  1. Expand and improve the information and counseling available to students and their families, so that they can make better choices about the post-secondary education options available to them.

Students' and families' expectations about post-secondary education are often formed by the time students are in eighth grade. These expectations are frequently shaped by myth and misunderstanding. Many students do not prepare themselves for post-secondary education because they do not believe their families can afford it, or because there is no campus in their community. Others simply never get the information they need about post-secondary admission requirements, and so fail to take the high school classes that would qualify them for admission. Still other students aim for baccalaureate degrees when what they really want and need is post-secondary technical training. And now, the proliferation of distance learning options adds a new source of confusion for potential students.

Greater focus on giving parents and students early and accurate information about the full range of post-secondary education options and labor market trends could positively affect these students' futures. In middle schools as well as high schools, students need more focused and customized information about financial aid, career pathways, labor market trends and post-secondary education planning. Strong counseling resources will result in program savings as the number of false starts and wasted efforts are reduced.

Adult learners - and adults who would benefit from learning opportunities if only they knew about them - also need more and better information about post-secondary education, about labor market trends, and new educational and occupational opportunities.

The availability of better information for students, families, and adult learners will foster better individual decisions about post-secondary education, stimulate demand, and reduce state cost.

Enhance Quality

  1. Maintain the base funding of public institutions at or above the average of public per-student funding of peer institutions in other states.

The state must provide a reliable measure for the public to judge whether their post-secondary institutions are receiving adequate support from the state. One such measure is public funding on a per-student basis. It is possible to compare this benchmark to the state support provided to similar institutions across the country. Using this approach, the public can gauge whether we are making a reasonable commitment to public funding of our institutions.

Current state policy establishes a goal to fund institutions at the 75th percentile ranking of similar institutions throughout the country. This goal has not been achieved, nor is it widely accepted by state policy-makers as a practical guide for state budgeting decisions. Little enthusiasm exists for providing funding support strictly to meet an arbitrary goal. This approach does not promote cost effective service delivery, but rather justifies high-cost operations to match the most costly peer institutions.

The Commission believes that state policy ought to protect and promote the highest possible quality of post-secondary education. We believe that those who teach in our post-secondary education system should be well paid. But we do not believe that the way to achieve these goals is to adopt a policy that our institutions' cost must equal the 75th percentile of peers costs.

Instead, the Commission recommends the establishment of a firm floor of base funding, greater institutional control of both revenues and expenditures, and a system of incentives, above base funding, that offer financial rewards to those institutions that meet specific state policy objectives. The Commission recommends this funding floor be set at the average per-student funding of peer institutions.

The community and technical college system is furthest from the average peer funding floor. This below-par level of public support contributes to heavy reliance on part-time faculty, the absence of up-to-date equipment, and a shortage of technical degree programs that cost more to deliver than academic transfer programs.

Research universities are also currently below the average of their peers. This is a dangerous condition for institutions that must compete globally to attract the faculty and researchers needed to maintain the level of learning and discovery necessary for economic growth and civic and cultural excellence.

  1. Provide incentive funding above the base to public institutions that propose and achieve improvements in educational quality and/or reduce costs. This funding should be offered in the form of venture capital for institutional initiatives that accomplish specific state policy objectives.

Incentives offer the highest probability for successful organizational change and improvement. Wherever possible, incentives should be provided to stimulate improved performance.

In 1991, the Legislature created the "Washington Fund for Innovation and Quality in Higher Education Program" (RCW 28B.120). This law set up a useful mechanism to provide venture capital to educators within our system to experiment with strategies to improve the quality and reduce the cost of post-secondary education. This program has never been funded. The Commission believes that funding for this program would pay significant dividends in coming decades.

Many faculty members are full of ideas about how to improve the curriculum and the learning environment. The availability of a competitive grant process offering financial support for implementing those ideas would stimulate innovation and experimentation on the campuses.

Additional funding should also be provided to reward institutions that achieve specific policy goals identified by the Governor and the Legislature, such as formulation and dissemination of learning outcomes described in Recommendation 7. Savings achieved from implementing Recommendation 8 should be used as a source of funds for these incentives.

To identify top-priority goals for post-secondary education in the state, the Higher Education Coordinating Board should take responsibility for consulting widely with local and national experts in post-secondary education, state business and labor leaders, the Governor, and legislators. Institutions' proposals for funding will be subjected to a review process coordinated by the Higher Education Coordinating Board, drawing on experts in post-secondary education from around the country. Recommendations for funding will be forwarded to the Governor for review and approval. In response to changing economic, social and political needs, goals will be reviewed and adjusted periodically.

Incentive funding should also be used to help institutions adjust course offerings to respond to high-demand fields that require a richer level of support to deliver. These funds should augment institutional base resources to purchase equipment and enrich base salaries to hire faculty in high competitive fields.

  1. Move toward assessing education in terms of what students learn rather than how many hours they spend in class.

The main virtue of assessing education in terms of credits and class hours is that it is familiar and traditional. But as the world of education is changed - by the advent of a competency-based K-12 system, by on-line learning, by experiential education, and by the development of industry-based skill standards - measuring seat time is becoming an anachronism.

In a more diverse post-secondary education system, there will be a growing need for clearly stated learning outcomes and independent certification of student learning for several reasons:

Educators themselves should take charge of developing and promoting clear learning outcomes. Institutions should employ peer review to provide independent validation of these efforts. The Commission believes that to be authentic and useful, learning outcomes must be developed by faculty who see their value in generating student and public support for post-secondary education, and their usefulness as a genuine measure of faculty and student success.

The community and technical college system has led the way in the application of skill standards to develop learning outcomes. This initiative, a partnership between employers and educators, has begun to pay dividends for students who choose educational programs with the help of skill standards in the industry of their choice. Likewise, faculty benefit from being able to customize their curriculum to more effectively meet the needs of their students. Their efforts should be encouraged and expanded.

This emphasis on learning outcomes should replace existing regulatory requirements, input measures, and accountability systems, and free educators to focus on their primary mission.

Increase Innovation and Productivity

  1. Create incentives for educators to accelerate student progression through high school and post-secondary education when appropriate.

The Commission believes that significant savings could be achieved by eliminating duplication of effort and accelerating learning throughout our education system. Students who learn faster should be able to move through the system faster. And students who can demonstrate mastery of specific skills and knowledge should not have to take classes that repeat what they already know. Millions of dollars could be saved simply by recognizing these realities.

As higher academic standards take hold in our public schools, even more students will be able to benefit from accelerated learning programs such as Running Start, College in High School, Tech-Prep, and Advanced Placement. These programs save both time and money for students and their families, and provide potential for significant cost savings to the state.

Similarly, within the post-secondary education system, reducing duplication and improving the articulation between colleges, degree programs, and majors saves resources for students and the public. These savings can be significantly expanded when clear learning outcomes are established. Incentives should exist to capture these potential savings as well.

Therefore, the state should provide an incentive for the growth of such programs throughout the state by dividing the savings achieved through these programs between the high schools and the post-secondary education institutions that produce the savings. A portion of the savings achieved by post-secondary education institutions should be captured at the institutional level rather than reverting to the general fund, and used as a supplemental source of funds for achieving Recommendation 6.

Savings can also be achieved by not providing remedial education at regional or research universities. And when the Certificate of Mastery is fully established in 2006, remedial education for this state's recent high school graduates no longer should be necessary. However, community and technical colleges must continue to provide education in adult basic skills, literacy, and English as a second language for older students and immigrants.

  1. Designate a statewide coordinator who will make distance education easy to use.

A significant part of Washington's growing enrollment demand will come from people who need to take classes while balancing family, work, and community obligations, and from people who live far from college campuses. These potential students - and others who simply prefer on-line learning - would benefit from a single, user-friendly access point for the growing list of distance education options.

Distance learning lowers the cost of education for students by eliminating the expenses of relocation and/or transportation. Asynchronous learning - learning that is independent of the time and place of teaching - also has the potential to reduce the need for new buildings, and, over time, to lower the unit costs of education. Because new, distance courses are proliferating rapidly, their full potential for cost savings cannot be calculated. As new methods of distance learning emerge, the state should carefully monitor their cost and effectiveness.

To expedite the development of a comprehensive array of distance learning options, a coordinator of state distance learning programs should be designated. Coordination of distance education is needed to help Washington residents take advantage of courses developed by Washington's post-secondary institutions, and by high-quality providers in other states and countries. If gaps exist in the array of distance learning courses, the coordinator should stimulate the development or acquisition of courseware that fills those gaps.

The purpose of the coordinator is to achieve maximum cost efficiency for the student and the state by making it easier for Washington students to find and enroll in the courses that best meet their needs. The designation of a coordinator does not confer monopoly status; on the contrary, the best interests of Washington students are served by helping them gain access to the widest possible diversity of high-quality course providers. The state coordinator should pursue partnerships with Washington's high-tech industries to accelerate the development of these opportunities.

  1. Eliminate or amend laws, regulations, and practices that unreasonably restrict institutions' ability to operate efficiently.

Establishing base funding at the national average as a state goal (Recommendation 8) - while expecting performance that is excellent - requires an environment in which institutions are rewarded when they pursue innovation and efficiency. Recent legislatures have relaxed statutory controls on institutional management practices. More must be done.

Institutional managers must fully utilize the freedom recently granted to them, and government regulators and legislators must continue to repeal and amend laws and regulations that impede efforts to find the best alternatives for activities such as procurement, facilities and property management, money management and reporting requirements.

Savings achieved through aggressive management of service delivery should be retained at the institution. The ability to carry savings forward, and to use these savings to enhance educational quality, will act as an incentive for all members of the campus community to identify and develop cost savings strategies.

  1. Grant tuition-setting authority to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and to the governing boards of all four-year public post-secondary institutions.

Central tuition setting by the state Legislature has served to protect the public from unreasonable price increases. But legislatively established tuition levels conceal the real costs and the market value of various courses of study. As institutions enter an era of competition with for-profit providers, niche or specialty market providers, and distance education providers, they will need to be able to adjust the prices they charge so as not to be disadvantaged in the market.

The ability of publicly funded institutions to be entrepreneurial and to deliver education efficiently should not be inhibited by their inability to set prices. Institutions should be able to adjust prices for services delivered in non-traditional ways (e.g. off-hours classes, classes delivered in remote locations, short courses, distance or technologically delivered education). The ability to set prices locally can, in many instances, work to reduce cost to students. Institutions should be free to generate revenue from programs with high market value without raising costs for students in less lucrative fields.

When considering tuition increase proposals, governing boards should weigh the following factors:

Institutional tuition-setting authority is not intended to diminish the overall level of state subsidy of post-secondary education. This recommendation should not be interpreted as endorsement of a high-tuition, high-aid policy. Bench-marking the state subsidy to peer institution funding (see Recommendation 5) will provide a way for the public to hold political leaders accountable for maintaining state support.

Funding and Governance

  1. Continue innovation and efficiency measures to mitigate the cost of increasing capacity and improving quality.

The recommendations of the Commission require increasing expenditures of public funds to expand capacity, and to increase funding in areas that have fallen below benchmark minimums. When taxpayers are asked to increase their commitment to support this important enterprise, the institutions must continue their efforts to deliver education efficiently.

In a system that includes distance education and a wide range of education and training programs, per-student costs vary widely. Thus, cost savings by institutions will not be uniform. All aspects of the enterprise must continuously seek out efficiencies.

Recommendations 8-11, the innovation and productivity section, comprise a series of strategies that, taken together, create a framework for enhanced productivity that can reduce the cost of achieving the Commission's vision over the next two decades. Institutions funded at or above the base funding described in Recommendation 5 should, through these recommendations, be able to re-allocate funds to achieve their mission more effectively.

  1. Make post-secondary education a higher priority in the state budget in order to create a system of sufficient size and quality to meet the needs of Washington residents. Provide the resources needed by considering all viable options, including a public referendum adjusting the state spending limit as that becomes necessary.

This recommendation requires that our post-secondary institutions be efficient stewards of public resources, and that they do all they can to stretch the capacity and the efficiency of existing educational resources. The innovation and productivity recommendations provide a framework for achieving those goals. However, we must recognize that the scale of growth that will be required in our post-secondary education system cannot be accomplished without a significant commitment of additional funding.

The need to expand capacity is immediate. The demographic bulge is beginning to graduate from high school now. The economy is demanding more highly skilled workers now. Employers have jobs unfilled now. Adults are interested in expanding their career choices by upgrading their skills and abilities now.

Failing to address this shortfall would deny opportunity to Washington residents, starve our industries of qualified employees, and lead to the deterioration of public institutions in which we have made substantial investments. The stakes are enormous. If we try to "just get by" we will consign our state and its people to economic decline and social division.

If raising the priority of post-secondary education within the state budget, implementing the Commission's recommendations for cost savings, and an exploration of alternative financing strategies are not enough to meet the educational needs of Washington's people, political leaders should take the issue to the people as a referendum to adjust the state spending limit, at least temporarily. This adjustment may be necessary only during the period of rapid enrollment growth.

In recognition of the need to view all of publicly funded education as a single seamless system, consideration should be given to joining with the K-12 system in this effort. Current divisions between secondary and post-secondary education are increasingly arbitrary and counter-productive. Future funding proposals should recognize the need to address all education funding needs in a unified fashion.

  1. Clarify the division of labor for governing post-secondary education. Review the statutory responsibilities of the Higher Education Coordinating Board and eliminate non-essential functions so that it can focus on its central mission as the statewide planning agency. Strengthen the autonomy and responsibility of Boards of Regents and Trustees.

The 2020 vision can only be achieved if an effective management system for post-secondary education is maintained. The state governing structure for post-secondary education is conceptually sound.

State law specifies that the role of the Higher Education Coordinating Board is to plan statewide system development and to recommend policy priorities to the Governor and the Legislature. A strong statewide planning agency is vital to the coherence of the system, and to the interests of learners in every corner of Washington. The Governor and the Legislature should review the statutory responsibilities of the HECB, and eliminate non-essential functions so that the Board can focus on the central responsibility of statewide system planning as defined in RCW. 28B. 80.320, 330, and 610.

Existing state law also clearly states that the management of the public institutions rests with their governing boards. By implementing Recommendations 10 and 11, the authority of governing boards will be strengthened. The Governor should keep the governing boards informed of statewide policies and priorities, so that regents and trustees can incorporate a statewide perspective in their oversight of their institution.

  1. Establish an independent, non-profit organization to build and sustain public understanding of the need for higher levels of educational attainment and lifelong learning. This group should be both an independent advocate for post-secondary education, and an organization that urges the system to high standards of accessibility, quality, innovation, efficiency, and responsiveness to the needs of learners.

An independent, non-profit organization is needed to educate community and business leaders and the public about the importance of post-secondary education; to advocate for expansion and improvement of the system; and to facilitate state government and the post-secondary education system accountability for meeting the needs of Washington learners.

The Partnership for Learning, an independent, non-profit organization founded to promote implementation of this state's 1993 school reform legislation, has played this role for public schools. It has provided an independent forum to bring stakeholders together, to educate the business and community leaders and the public about education reform, and to help local communities hold their schools accountable for raising academic achievement levels.

A similar organization, composed of business, labor, education, and community leaders, should be created to promote continuous improvement of this state's post-secondary education system, and to build public support for it.

The Importance of a Coherent Strategy

Many contracts include a non-severability clause - a statement that all its provisions must be taken as a whole. Regarding this set of recommendations, the Commission would like to recommend something similar: we believe that to achieve our 2020 vision, these recommendations need to be implemented together. We recognize that they will need to be phased in, and that they cannot all be accomplished at once. Policy makers are encouraged to maintain the integrity of the combined recommendations while implementing the various components.

Our recommendations comprise a coherent strategy for achieving our vision of the post-secondary education system we will need in the year 2020. We balance the need for more resources with incentives for greater efficiency and accountability. We balance institutional autonomy and management flexibility with achieving statewide goals. We balance pressure for greater access with support for high quality. We balance students' need for greater choice, better information, and more power in the educational marketplace with respect for the distinctive role and mission of each of our post-secondary institutions and protection of our investments in them.

As we look to the year 2020, we know that to achieve the future of our choosing we must act with courage and determination. We are committed to providing a life of learning to our families, our neighbors and all fellow Washingtonians, in the belief that it will become the foundation for a prosperous future. We urge our fellow citizens to join with us in doing all that is necessary to make this vision a reality.


  1. Cost Estimates—Summary
  2. Chart, "Funding of Post-Secondary Education (PSE): 2010 and 2020"
  3. Chart, "Recent Trends in Primary PSE Age Cohorts: Ages 17-22 and 23-29"
  4. Chart, "State General Fund and Tuition Expenditures Per FTE Student: 1986-1997: By Public PSE Sector: Nominal Dollars"
  5. Chart, "State General Fund and Tuition Expenditures Per FTE Student: 1986-1997: By Public PSE Sector: Inflated-Adjusted 1997 Dollars"
  6. Chart, "Public PSE Percent of State Spending in Nominal Dollars: 1986-1997: Public PSE Percent of State General Fund Total (GF-S): Public PSE Percent of GF-S and Tuition State Total"
  7. Chart, "Demographics of Primary PSE Age Cohorts: 1970-2020: Actuals Through 1999; Forecasts to 2020"
  8. Chart, "Public PSE Student FTEs: 1999-2020"
  9. Survey, "2020 Commission Citizen Survey,"
    A. SESRC Data Report #98-20, July 1998
    B. Questionnaire (PDF Format - Free reader available at the Adobe Web site)
  10. Bibliography