Bill would pay tuition in rural counties

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Emry Dinman/Columbia Basin Herald Rep. Drew Hansen, chair of the House Higher Education Committee, listening to testimony on the merits of HB 2177.

OLYMPIA — Rural counties struggling to find and retain skilled workers might find some relief in a bill heard Wednesday by the House Committee on Higher Education.

House Bill 2177 would create a program to pay student tuition and fees for up to 45 credits at a community or technical college located in a rural county.

Thirty out of 39 counties would be affected by this bill. Only King, Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap, Whatcom, Thurston, Clark, Benton, and Spokane counties are too large to be considered rural counties.

To qualify, a student would have to be pursuing an associate degree or other credentials in a field where the number of students from local programs does not meet the need of local employers. Approved fields include, but are not limited to, nursing, surgical technology, business technology management, education, and certain vocational studies.

Jenny Knoth, a representative for the Port Angeles-based timberland management company Green Crow, came to testify in support of the bill. The market for homes has increased more rapidly than the industry’s ability to hire workers, Knoth said.

“We have difficulty finding carpenters and can’t find enough people to build houses,” said Knoth. “What this bill tells us is there are people across the state interested in our students.”

“I feel that this bill will help strengthen our rural communities by providing an educated workforce in the communities that need it,” Wendel said. “Having that sort of guidance would be very helpful, particularly for students in need who are the first in their families going to college.”

The bipartisan bill was cosponsored by Rep. Mike Steele, R-Chelan, Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Rep. Noel Frame, D-Seattle.

The House Committee on Higher Education will take executive action on HB 2177 at 10 a.m., Friday.

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