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Senate advances bill to improve CTC faculty diversity, retention

OLYMPIA (March 9, 2021) — SB 5194, the “Our Colleges, Our Future” Act which is a major legislative priority for AFT Washington, working in coalition with the Communities For Our Colleges coalition, passed the Senate on Monday by a 30-19 vote. It would provide a holistic approach to racial equity and economic justice within our state’s community and technical colleges (CTCs) by having each college adopt a diversity and inclusion strategic plan that includes a faculty diversity program.

Washington’s CTCs are the key to supporting an increasingly skills-demanding workforce and for addressing the economic gap for low-income and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. CTCs can and should play a key role in a just recovery from COVID, but CTCs have already suffered major budget cuts in response to COVID impacts.

The Great Recession shows the power of the economic engine of the CTCs, as workers return to work; not investing in them now will cause setbacks in recovery. Faculty and student-facing staff have been laid off across the state; while they are dedicated to developing the workforce, they are a workforce that has seen minimal investment over the last several decades.

SB 5194 calls for the state to invest in 200 new full-time tenure track faculty positions in the next biennium, which will enable colleges to better recruit and retain a diverse faculty. This critical investment into converting part-time to full-time faculty positions will directly support historically under-served students to complete their programs. Communities For Our Colleges, an organization of students, faculty, staff, alumni and organizations like AFT Washington, identified these needs as critical for the CTC system to succeed in educating Washington’s future workforce.

“Students learn best from faculty that look like them, and currently our faculty is around 80 percent white people, whereas the student body is nearly 50 percent people of color,” said AFT Washington President Karen Strickland. “We want to develop the next generation of faculty, especially BIPOC faculty. We can’t do that if we are engaged in a race to the bottom and relying more and more on gig workers in colleges.”

Full-time, tenure track faculty have the time and resources for office hours, curriculum development, and most importantly, one-on-one mentoring to help students overcome barriers and succeed. Research has shown that exposure to full-time faculty who are available to students is tied to better retention and graduation, but right now, nearly 70 percent of the state’s CTC faculty workforce are adjunct faculty.

Dr. Erin Gibbons, Adjunct Chemistry Professor at Seattle Central College Local 1789, testified in support of SB 5194 earlier this session and emphasized this point.

“Faculty have a higher turnover rate, especially in Seattle, where we would need a 25% raise to align with peer institutions,” Gibbons said. “More job stability means students get one-on-one mentoring that is so key for retention and academic success.”

SB 5194 also calls for a critical investment in mental health counseling at CTCs, as recommended by a State Board for Community and Technical Colleges taskforce, which grew out of an AFT Washington-supported bill that passed in 2019. Its report showed that counseling, especially mental health counseling, is under-resourced in CTCs. The bill would establish a pilot program to expand these mental health counseling services.

In addition, SB 5194 changes residency requirements for student aid so more undocumented students can access the Washington College Grant and in-state tuition.

AFT Washington is a state federation affiliated with the 1.6 million American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. We represent about 6,500 members including faculty from community and technical colleges and pre-K through 12 classified employees. We also jointly represent professors at Eastern, Central, and Western Washington universities and The Evergreen College with the Washington Education Association.

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