Invest in training our future workforce at 34 community, technical colleges
By SHOUAN PAN and ANNETTE STOFER
SEATTLE (April 15, 2019) — It has never been feast, but always famine for Washington’s community and technical colleges.
Washington state is proud to have an amazing system of community and technical colleges. It provides the open door of opportunity for students from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, representing the full diversity in our state.
We enroll high-performing students and under-prepared, under-served students; full- and part-time students; the abled and disabled; and 16-year olds and senior citizens. We serve veterans, single moms, laid-off workers, undocumented immigrants, youths who need a second chance, and students with different sexual orientations. We prepare students for transferring to four-year universities, for entry and mid-level jobs that are desperately needed in our state economy, for promotions at their current jobs, and for personal enrichment. We have served this diverse mission at a fraction of the cost when compared to that of a four-year institution.
Today, more than 340,000 Washingtonians are pursuing their educational and life goals in high-quality programs such as mechanical engineering, aeronautics, health services, medical assisting, computer science and data security, building and construction trades, and much more.
As effective and efficient economic engines and workforce providers, the 34 community and technical colleges across the state are doing a yeoman’s work to ensure that our citizens are well-educated and ready to fill the 740,000 job openings that Washington employers anticipate by 2021. We are also the institutions that daily address the lack of equity and inclusion for so many in our communities who need not only educational opportunities, but also support to tear down life barriers that hold people back.
From the establishment of community colleges 50 years ago, the levels of funding by the State Legislature have been consistently inadequate so as to force the colleges to make due with poorly compensated faculty and staff and deteriorating physical and technological infrastructures.
The ups and downs of Washington’s economy don’t seem to change the funding levels. Of course, in bad times, funding is reduced; cost-of-living increases are frozen; student tuition is raised to fill the gaps. In good times, however, we hear the same message that the famine continues. As a discretionary budget item, we are left on the sidelines fighting for scraps, and we limp along, even as we are expected to raise educational attainment and address workforce shortages.
To be blunt, our state’s entire system of community and technical colleges is in crisis. This is because that the state funding for the system stands at the 2008 level while the cost of living and cost of operation have risen dramatically in the past 11 years. Since 2013, the system has lost $50 million due to unfunded mandates. Our faculty make at least 12 percent less than their counterparts in peer states because Olympia has not approved salary increases for faculty since 2008. Recruitment and retention of employees in all categories has become ever more challenging, especially for those who can take their skills elsewhere for much higher salaries and better quality of life.
This disinvestment in the state’s community and technical colleges is weakening the state’s economic future when Washington needs a more educated, skilled workforce to be competitive both domestically and globally. A recent Washington Community and Technical College survey shows that 87% percent of respondents want the Legislature to increase funding for the system. They want the famine to end so that the excellence can continue.
Our students, our hard-working and talented faculty and other employees deserve much better. It is time for our Legislature to reinvest in the state’s community and technical colleges.
Dr. Shouan Pan has served as chancellor of Seattle Colleges since July 2016. He spent the previous eight years as president of Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz. Annette Stofer is a long-time instructor at South Seattle College and President of AFT Seattle Local 1789, the faculty union in the Seattle Colleges District.
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