Baird seeks answers for college challenges

Former congressman leads new state higher-ed agency

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



Fast facts about education in Southwest Washington

• The high school graduation rate is 78.6 percent.

• 63 percent of residents aged 17 to 44 do not have a post-high-school degree.

• The unemployment rate is 7.8 percent higher for those who do not have at least one year of college.

In Washington, too many high school students drop out. Too many college freshmen need remedial courses in math and English. Too many employers say college graduates aren't prepared for the workforce.

Meanwhile, the cost of college tuition continues to skyrocket, pricing students of modest means out of a college education.

Former Congressman Brian Baird aims to find solutions to these educational dilemmas.

"What can we do to maximize student achievement?" Baird asked the group of a dozen educators at a public forum at the Artillery Barracks at Fort Vancouver Historic Site on Monday.

The question is foremost in his mind lately.

He was in Vancouver on Monday as part of his statewide tour of eight cities to meet with local educators and the public to discuss these issues and to begin to find a solution.

Baird chairs the Washington Student Achievement Council, a cabinet-level state agency formed in July. The council's task is to develop a 10-year road map for higher education, including recommendations for initiatives and resources needed to increase educational attainment.

The nine-member council includes five citizens, a current student and one representative from each of the state's four major educational sectors: one from the four-year public universities, one from the public community and technical colleges, one from the not-for-profit independent colleges and universities and a representative from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The student member, Lindsey Jahn, is a Columbia River High School graduate who attends Washington State University in Pullman. Council members are volunteers, not paid staff. Already Baird has spent almost 700 hours on this project.

The board replaces the Higher Education Coordinating Board, abolished by the state in 2011 after it was deemed ineffective.

The council plans to address five areas: readiness; affordability; institutional capacity and student success; capturing the potential of technology; and stable and accountable funding.

Throughout the day, Baird and his team met with representatives from Clark College, Lower Columbia College, WSU Vancouver, ESD 112, the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts and others.

The council encourages people to provide feedback about how to improve educational attainment by going online at

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4415;;