Olympic College in Shelton stands ready to help businesses by training their employees with needed workplace skills, says Executive Director Nora Ellen Richard.

Richard, who took office Oct. 1, told a recent meeting of the Mason County Economic Development Council there are a number of misconceptions about what the community college provides. The four major components of the college are like the four tines of a table fork.

One tine is outreach to business and industry.

“If your employees lack training needed for your company, the college can devise a class specifically to meet those needs,” Richard said.

The college also provides re-training for displaced workers, she said, and even helps them decide what career to take up next through a program called New Chance.

The other three tines of the fork, Richard said, are:

General education. Whether in the form of one-shot classes or full-blown courses, the education of the general public is one of the college’s most basic and essential tasks.

How far will the college go to serve the public need?

One example is a class the college offered in high tea, Richard said.

Adult education. The college helps high school dropouts complete their high school education, with avenues ranging from a GED to a diploma.

Two-year degrees. Associate degrees help students complete requirements for the first two years of a four-year college, enabling them to go on to a bachelor’s at a college or university.

The college also has a program called Running Start, which enrolls high school students in college-level courses. Yet the typical student at a community college such as Olympic is not 18 to 21 years old, Richard said. Many are older, averaging about 26 years of age, but the college also serves the educational needs of students in their 60s and 70s in credited courses such as computer education, she added.

“Isn’t that neat?” Richard declared.

Funding for community colleges is thin compared to other institutions of higher education, Richard complained.

“One-third of people with four-year degrees get their start at a community college,” Richard said. “We are teaching 60 percent of the students in college in this state with 40 percent of the funding.”

While research universities in the state typically receive $8,644 per full-time-equivalent student, Richard said, regional universities get a more modest $5,043 and community colleges receive only $3,421.

“We want more because we are providing so many services to the community,” Richard said.

Although students attend Olympic from as far away as Bremerton and Lilliwaup, she added, the majority of the college’s nearly 500 students are from Shelton.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff