Earlier this month, more than 7,000 students enrolled for winter quarter courses at Cascadia College and Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) combined.
These students are apprenticing in the construction industry, training in manufacturing trades, completing certificates in computer technology, earning two-year university transfer degrees, or getting four-year degrees, in fields ranging from health care to sustainable practices. They are pursuing higher education with us in order to gain employment in one of the estimated 740,000 jobs that are estimated will be available in Washington state by 2021, most of which will require education beyond high school.
These same students are counting on our lawmakers, who just returned to Olympia, to begin work on a new two-year state budget, to prioritize higher education funding for students at our community and technical colleges.
There needs to be a shift toward proactively funding education, rather than reactively responding to a crisis. The McCleary decision helped get the state back on track with regard to K-12 education, but was difficult to fund. The lack of funding of the community and technical colleges, and the universities, has created a situation that is unsustainable for higher education in Washington.
There are more jobs available than we can fill with our graduates, and more companies are recruiting from out of state. The truth of the matter is, the community and technical colleges do not have the funding to resolve any of these issues. By not allocating money to support growth in higher education, we will create an economic turning point in our state that will be difficult to recover.
As the presidents of Cascadia and LWTech, we realize that the pathways to careers, now and in the future, run right through our colleges. We are affordable, serve a diverse population of students and are connected to both local employers and universities. We are also in critical need of state investment and hope our legislators will provide funding in five key areas.
State Need Grant
Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges are grateful that the Legislature took steps last year to fully fund the State Need Grant by 2023. We encourage legislators to build on this work so all students who qualify will receive state financial aid.
Our colleges are engaged in a nationally recognized approach that is helping students simplify their choices with course sequencing and advising that gives students a bright-line path into careers and universities.
Access to training
Our students, and the regional employers who count on them, need more access to trainings for jobs in high-demand fields such as aerospace, advanced manufacturing, health care and IT. Providing inclusive opportunities with a diverse and well-trained workforce will help to elevate our economy.
Competitive compensation for faculty
We need to attract and retain exceptional faculty. On average, community and technical college faculty are paid 12 percent less than faculty in peer states. We are asking the Legislature to provide fully funded competitive compensation.
The Legislature controls the major revenue sources for the colleges. This includes a state allocation and tuition. These rates have remained relatively stagnant and have not kept up with the cost of doing business on a daily basis.
We applaud the state’s investment in K-12 in the last budget and ask legislators to now focus on funding education beyond high school. Community and technical colleges, and our four-year university partners, are committed to providing the type of high quality education that leads to a talented and trained workforce. The success of our community and our economy depends on it.
Dr. Amy Morrison is the president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Dr. Eric Murray is the president of Cascadia College.