Published in today’s Puget Sound Business Journal
By Dr. Amy Morrison Goings, President of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education Voters
Recently, the League of Education Voters convened over 400 hundred of our neighbors to discuss the challenges around bridging our state’s skills gap. There are many theories being discussed as to why we are facing a lack of prepared talent across manufacturing and information technology sectors, to name a few. We believe Washington State’s chronic underfunding of public higher education, particularly our 34-member community and technical college system, is one of the reasons why we have these ongoing skills gaps.
The mission of the community and technical colleges is directly related to the viability of our state’s workforce. According to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, from 2014-2015 Washington state community and technical colleges produced more than 45,000 college awards, including more than 10,000 associate’s degrees and nearly 300 applied baccalaureate degrees (four year degrees that are directly applicable to a graduate’s career aspirations).
Sixty five percent of all new jobs created in the next few years will require some form of a post-secondary credential. Not just a high school diploma and not necessarily a baccalaureate degree, but somewhere in-between. An associate’s degree, or a certificate backed by industry need, or an apprenticeship. Providing relevant, nimble, and industry connected workforce education is at the core mission and talent of the community and technical colleges.
Even with the strong mission of our colleges, it’s becoming more difficult to close the skills gap, because community and technical colleges are not constitutionally protected in the same way as K12. Unfortunately, our colleges have not been financially supported through the Great Recession to the present day. In fact, today, community and technical colleges are funded per student at pre-2007 levels. Think about if you paid your employees, vendors and partners at 2007 levels. There would be gaps in service. The community and technical colleges are no different.
Those who work in the community and technical colleges system are advocates for the full funding of K12 and early learning, and work very closely with secondary partners to expose students, at an early age, to the two-year colleges. This partnership creates direct routes for students into career opportunities and earning potential that comes with technical preparation.
With that said, we believe most of us would agree that a “basic education” in the 21st century, must include early learning, a fully funded K12 system, and a post-secondary credential.
Through the support of the League of Education Voters, and the unmatched advocacy for K12, early learning, and higher education, especially the community and technical colleges, we will ensure that all Washingtonians can take full advantage of our growing economy and fully participate in the workforce.
We can’t do it alone. We need your help. Work with us to bridge the skills gap by engaging with a community or technical college. Our colleges have expert faculty who come from, and work in, industry, in addition to teaching. Programs have advisory committees that are comprised of business leaders from all different types of industry from aerospace and engineering, to game design and computer security, to welding and machine technology. Give to college foundations so that students have financial support through scholarships. And most importantly talk to your legislators about the value of our state’s community and technical colleges.
By partnering with advocates like the League of Education Voters, you will help send the message that we must fund K12 and stop the disinvestment in higher education. By doing this, we will all be able to give our state a fighting chance to bridge our growing skills gap.