July 23, 2007 in Opinion

Four-year fallacy

The Spokesman-Review
 

By the numbers

» Each year until 2014, Washington will need the following new health care workers with some post-secondary education, but not a four-year degree.

745 nursing aides/orderlies/ attendants

575 medical secretaries

501 dental assistants

407 licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.

Source: Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board

The Inland Northwest was blazing last week. Tuesday, firefighters in the region battled almost a dozen fires. Wednesday’s rain helped soothe the burning land, but we are deep now into wildfire season.

Cindy Usher, head of the Fire Science Technology program at Spokane Community College, knows many of her current and former students are doing the tough and sometimes dangerous work of fighting our summer blazes.

The Fire Science Technology program takes two years. Course work combines academics, such as math and English, with hands-on training. Though some of Usher’s students go on for four-year degrees, most enter the workforce right away. Program graduates work for fire agencies throughout the Northwest and as far away as Nevada and Alaska. They work as firefighters, supervisors and inspectors and earn $18 to $35 an hour. And job satisfaction tends to be on the high side.

“People become firefighters to serve their communities,” Usher said.

Fire Science Technology is one of SCC’s most popular programs because it acknowledges that not all great jobs, now or in the future, require four-year degrees.

“The biggest growth age in the economy is 25- to 35-year-olds. More than a third don’t have (education) beyond high school (and) are resigned to lower-level, lower-wage work. A lot of those folks have all the ability in the world,” said Charles Earl, executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The challenge for families, education institutions and society is to match students who won’t get a four-year degree with the training and education they need to realize their potential – and earn a good living.

During summer break, young people and their parents often discuss long-range education plans. Keep in mind that one style of education doesn’t fit all. Society needs doctors, lawyers and other professionals, but a vibrant and healthy society depends just as much on its builders, welders, plumbers, nurse’s assistants and firefighters.

Education and training options exist for every kind of student, every level of ability. Search them out. Good paying jobs, and the future of the economy, await.


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