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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Feb. 20, 2024

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Local View: Time for Legislature to invest in education after high school


As lawmakers gather in Olympia for the 2019 legislative session, they must write the next 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.

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 two-year degree, a four-year degree, or an apprenticeship.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget makes vital investments in these career paths for students and provides a great starting point for the Legislature’s budget work. After years of stagnant funding, our community and technical college system needs new investment to make those pathways accessible to all students.

We’re worth the investment. The state’s community and technical colleges are affordable, serve all kinds of students, and are connected to both local employers and universities. Whether students are 16 or 60, and whatever their background, we have high-quality programs to help them move forward. Equally important, we are the primary gateway to education past high school for those who, like almost three-quarters of Clark’s students, are the first in their families to go to college.

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 get 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 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 get to their career goals, whether they want to go into a career after graduating or continue to a university.

Faculty, facilities

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 industries like aerospace, advanced manufacturing, health care, information technology, cybersecurity and media.

We need to invest in faculty to teach these subjects. But 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.

Training in these fields also requires investment in modern teaching facilities. That is why we are asking the Legislature to fund building design and construction projects to ensure our colleges are the best training ground for emerging industries. On the list is Clark’s proposed advanced manufacturing training facility in Ridgefield, which would serve as an education hub for this region’s high-tech manufacturing sector and attract new employers to Southwest Washington.

Good jobs are out there. The Southwest region is home to growing health care, information technology, engineering, and advanced manufacturing industries, spanning from Long Beach to Vancouver. The majority of these jobs will require education after high school. With sufficient funding from the Legislature, our state can help ensure that our students are ready to step into those positions, filling Washington jobs with Washington talent.

Robert Knight is president of Clark College.

Tim Stokes is chair of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges Legislative and Public Information Committee and president of South Puget Sound Community College.