OLYMPIA - Central Washington University may begin making it easier for veterans, early education professionals and others to translate their experiences into diplomas, if a proposed bill is passed.
Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, sponsored a bill to begin an online alternative degree program at the university.
"As one of the younger members in the House of Representatives, I've been deeply concerned over tuition," said Sawyer, a CWU political science and geography graduate, at the bill's public hearing before the House higher education committee Tuesday.
He said an alternate to giving universities more state money was to "challenge how we think about education."
If passed, HB 2352 would let students get college credit based on what they've learned on the job or in the military, for example, instead of based on how many hours they spent in the classroom.
Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, who is an associate professor at CWU, is one of the bill's sponsors.
"The bill will allow universities to develop a credit model that permits them to award credit based on life experience," he wrote in an email. "If someone has been an accountant for 10 years, and goes back to school, they don't need to take Accounting 101. The policy will allow adults who are returning to school to get back in the workforce much quicker."
CWU President James Gaudino testified in favor of the bill before committee.
He said it was needed to help the state meet bachelor degree production goals, and would apply to a variety of fields.
"Does it fit for the military? Absolutely. Does it fit for Boeing? Absolutely. Does it fit out in the Moses Lake area or the Yakima Basin where they're trying to move their economies into different directions? Absolutely," Gaudino said.
He said the faculty senate approved the plan, and that professors would assess competency requirements for their disciplines.
"This bill really asks us to be a little bit more creative in determining whether or not an individual is meeting the learning objectives, when they're not spending that hour sitting in front of us," Gaudino said.
Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, is another one of the bill's sponsors. She said it would be a more economical option for some people, particularly veterans, to earn a degree.
"It's another tool in the tool box for expanding opportunities for those who have taken some courses but not enough for a degree," Warnick said.
She said it could also provide an alternate to the Running Start program for high school students who want to earn college credits.
Gaudino said the university would work with employers and the military to see how their training equates with the school's classwork.
CWU would award up to 45 credits for experience outside the classroom, Sawyer said. It takes a minimum of 180 credit hours to obtain a bachelor's degree at the university, according to the registrar's website.
Manweller said it could be a pilot program before expanding to the rest of the state. The bill would require CWU to report back to the legislature annually on its implementation.
Sawyer said that his bill could help "close the opportunity gap" by investing in early learning and those already working in the field.
"One of the missing factors of that is that we have people who have been doing this for 25 years, who are very professional, who know their business and deserve an online alternative to uprooting their business and going somewhere else to get four years of education," he said.
HB 2352 is scheduled for an executive session and may be voted out of committee this week.
Leilani Leach is an Olympia-based intern through Washington State University. She is covering the Legislative session for the school's Murrow News Service.