Lawmakers will soon gather in Olympia for the 2019 legislative session. Their jobs won’t be easy.
This is the year the Legislature must write the next two-year state budget, weighing many competing and important demands in the process.
Fortunately, there is one thing on which everyone can agree: people need good, well-paying jobs and most of those jobs require training and education beyond high school. This is true across the state, whether legislators represent urban or rural areas and whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
Ask most Washingtonians what makes them worry at night. Chances are, their top worries are about economic security – food, housing, jobs, paychecks, bills, healthcare, college, and retirement.
One of the most powerful ways to address all these concerns is for the Legislature to prioritize higher education funding next session – for students at community and technical colleges and universities alike.
According to the Washington Roundtable, there will be 740,000 job openings by 2021, more than half of which will require education past high school. At the same time, people need a range of pathways to those jobs, whether it’s an employer certificate, training in a trade, a 2-year degree, a 4-year degree, or an apprenticeship.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget makes vital investments in these vital career paths for students and provides a great starting point for the Legislature’s budget work.
From the community and technical college perspective, we realize that pathways to careers run right through our colleges. We are affordable, serve all kinds of students, and are connected to both local employers and universities.
There are 34 community and technical colleges across the state, big and small, urban and rural. Whether students are 16 or 60, and whatever their background, we have quality academic, training and support programs to help them move forward.
Here at SPSCC, we award degree and professional certificates to more than 1,200 graduates every year. The high quality training they receive puts these students on track to earn more, advance in their education or careers, and prosper right here in Thurston County.
Equally important, we are the primary gateway to education past high school for students who are the first in their families to go to college. Many of these students would never have attempted college without the community or technical college option to help them build skills and manage the cost.
Last year, the Legislature took steps to begin to fully fund the State Need Grant by 2023. We encourage the Legislature to continue this momentum so all students who qualify will receive state financial aid.
Community and technical colleges are also seeking investments in three other key areas for students: guided career pathways, training in high-demand careers, and exceptional instruction.
The guided career pathways approach is a nationally-recognized way to help students graduate on time and with purpose, saving them time and money in the process. The idea is to help students choose a course of study earlier and to organize classes in a way that makes it easy for them to take the right classes in the right order. Students get clear road maps to reach their career goals, whether they want to go immediately into a career after graduating or attend a university for more study. Advisors work closely with students to identify their path, keep them on it, and help them graduate sooner.
Our students, and the employers who count on them, also need more access to training for jobs in high-demand fields that pay well and elevate our economy. These include jobs in aerospace, advanced manufacturing, health care, IT, cybersecurity, nursing, interactive media, and a myriad of other positions with employers across the street and around the state.
Of course, none of this can happen without outstanding instruction. We need to attract and keep exceptional faculty. To do this, we need the Legislature to provide competitive compensation. On average, community and technical college faculty are paid 12 percent less than faculty in peer states.
Good jobs are out there. But the majority of those jobs will require education after high school.
A new report by Washington STEM found that the South Olympic Region is home to growing healthcare, wood products, education, and construction industries, spanning from Olympia to Westport. With ample funding from the Legislature, our state can help ensure that students are ready to step into those positions, filling Washington jobs with Washington talent.
As Legislators set their sights on writing the next state budget, their focus should be on funding education beyond high school. Community and technical colleges and our four-year university partners create common ground—and a powerful public good—for the people of Washington state.
Thumbnail photo by moose mama via creative commons.