It’s time to invest in education beyond high school

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The elections are over, and lawmakers are once again gearing up to gather in Olympia for the 2019 legislative session. Their job this year is challenging because legislators must write the next two-year state budget, weighing many competing and important demands in the process.

Fortunately, one thing we can all agree on is that Washingtonians need well-paying jobs and most of those jobs require training and education beyond high school. Ask most people what worries them at night and their responses would likely include economic security – food, housing, jobs, paychecks, bills, health care, college and retirement.

One of the most effective ways to address all these concerns is for our legislators to prioritize higher education funding next session. According to the Washington Roundtable, more than half of the 740,000 job openings by 2021 will require education past high school. Simultaneously, people need a range of pathways to those jobs, whether it’s an employer certificate, training in a trade, a two-year degree, a four-year degree or an apprenticeship.

Big Bend is reflective of the 34 community and technical colleges across the state. Whatever students’ backgrounds, we have quality academic, training and support programs to help them succeed.

We are the primary gateway for students who are the first in their families to go to college. Many of them 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 fund the State Need Grant fully by 2023. We encourage our legislators to continue this momentum, so all qualified students 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 with clear road maps, whether they want to go immediately into a career after graduating or go to a university for more study.

Our students, and the employers who count on them, also need more access to training for jobs in high-skill, high-demand and high-wage fields that stimulate our economy.

None of this can happen without outstanding instruction. We must attract and keep the exceptional faculty who transform lives through excellence in teaching and learning. To do this, our legislators must provide competitive compensation. On average, Washington community and technical college faculty are paid 12 percent less than faculty in peer states.

Good jobs are out there. A new report by Washington STEM found that our North Central Region is home to growing healthcare, education, computers and IT, and construction industries, spanning from Moses Lake to Okanogan. The majority of these jobs require education after high school. With ample funding from our state Legislature, we can help ensure that our students are ready to step into those positions, filling Washington jobs with Washington talent.

As Legislators write 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 serve a powerful public good – for the people of Washington state.

Dr. Terrence Leas is the president of Big Bend Community College and a member of the Columbia Basin Herald’s editorial board. Dr. Tim Stokes is the chair of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges Legislative and Public Information Committee and the president of South Puget Sound Community College.

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