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Washington colleges pledge change at D.C. summit

Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press

SEATTLE – Representatives of seven Washington colleges and universities were in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to participate in a White House summit on college access.

Participants in the meeting – which was moved to the Ronald Reagan Building because the group was too big to meet in the White House – were Bellevue College, Olympic College in Bremerton, Renton Technical College, Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Seattle Colleges, Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University.

They spent the day with President Barack Obama, the first lady and the vice president talking expanding college access.

WSU President Elson Floyd said he was particularly moved by the eloquent comments of first lady Michelle Obama on what colleges need to do to guide and nurture first-generation college students, whose parents did not earn college degrees.

“We have to make sure that we are doing everything we can to create a warm, inviting, hospitable environment for all students, but particularly for first-generation and low-income students,” Floyd said. He mentioned the university’s special college – University College – to support and guide students who haven’t decided on a major.

One of the ways WSU tracks its new students to make sure they are making progress toward graduation is by immediately contacting all students who have failed to enroll for the next semester, with emails, text messages and phone calls.

“We have to be relentless,” Floyd said.

The topics of discussion at the summit included college readiness, degree completion and increasing the number of college graduates in science, technology, engineering and math.

The president also planned to announce new federal spending to support college preparation and completion including a new AmeriCorps program designed to improve low-income students’ access to college.

Obama asked each college to pledge to take one new action in one of four areas: college completion, college readiness, high school counseling, and science, technology, engineering and math education.

The Seattle Colleges committed to increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and math students earning an associate’s degree or transferring to a four-year college to pursue learning in those areas.

The colleges will focus on providing those opportunities to students from minority groups, women, first-generation college students and low-income residents.

“We are in the middle of the Silicon Forest, and high-paying careers are multiplying as I speak,” said Seattle Colleges Chancellor Jill Wakefield, in a statement.

Renton Technical College pledged to improve its basic education efforts in every degree program at the college, to help every student improve their literacy, math and other basic skills.

Bellevue College pledged to create more opportunities for students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math related fields. Toward that goal, the college is constructing a new health sciences building and building its health care career programs.

Olympic College is working with a coalition of schools, which have been named as finalists for the Aspen Prize, on interventions for struggling college students.

Those efforts include a tracking system to identify and help students who may be struggling in college, an accelerated program to bring students up to college level in English and math, and a new approach to student services.

Walla Walla Community College committed to a goal of having at least 70 percent of students pursuing a degree or credential will succeed and then pursue more education or secure meaningful employment.

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