In the next five years, there will be 740,000 job openings in Washington and more than half will require a college certificate or degree. These are good-paying, career-length jobs that need a mid-level of education — more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor's degree.
Now consider this: The 34 institutions in this state that are best equipped to prepare our local workforce to fill these jobs are operating at 2007 funding levels and are once again poised to suffer cuts at the hands of the legislature.
Our community and technical colleges serve about 381,000 students and contribute $20.5 billion to the economy each year. About 20,000 of these students enroll at South Puget Sound Community College. After graduation, they land living-wage jobs or transfer easily to local universities to pursue more advanced degrees. In Thurston County alone, SPSCC has an annual impact of more than $316 million.
We train computer scientists, welders, nurses, bookkeepers, architectural designers, and emergency personnel (just to name a few) to meet our region’s workforce needs. In addition, we also help thousands of people each year who already have jobs stay up-to-date in their fields.
Nobody else is filling the skills gap for these middle-skilled jobs. High schools across the state have reduced career training programs (or cut them altogether) and for-profit training institutions are expensive, difficult to access, and do not have job placement or success rates near those of our community and technical colleges.
We are good at what we do. We have the facilities, systems, expert faculty, industry relationships, and proven track record needed to sustain our state’s economic growth and help our students and communities to prosper. But we need additional investments from the Legislature to do it.
The current budgets proposed by the Governor and House make modest investments in the Community & Technical College System — they each invest $1.5 billion for the biennium into meeting the state’s workforce demands. However, the Senate’s proposed budget reduces the System’s funding by 3 percent (down to 2005 levels) and reduces tuition assistance for low-income students.
The bottom line is that if lawmakers want Washington state to remain a global leader in economic development, then they must support the system that is proven to produce a 21st-century skilled workforce. While community and technical colleges may not be the state’s “paramount duty,” we are paramount to the state’s future economic growth and stability.
Timothy Stokes is president of South Puget Sound Community College.