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Sat., Oct. 5, 2013

Marty Brown: Surveys a measure of community colleges’ impact

Washington’s college students are back in school and hitting the books. According to a recent study, the future looks bright for community and technical college transfer students.

A study of 20,499 Washington bachelor-degree graduates found students who transferred from two-year colleges to four-year universities did just as well as those who started as freshmen, with similar GPAs and credits earned. In fact, four out of 10 public baccalaureate graduates in Washington started at a community or technical college.

Students from two-year colleges contributed to every major, the study found. Transfer students made up 47 percent of business majors, 46 percent of health field majors, and 35 percent of majors in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The report was produced by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges in cooperation with all state public four-year colleges and universities.

It illustrates why the Legislature deserves credit for reinvesting in two-year colleges and why the support should continue.

Study after study shows Washington must increase college attainment to be competitive, from job-specific certificates to associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and beyond. Washington’s community and technical colleges deliver for every level. Two-year colleges train people for direct entry into high-demand, high-skill jobs, and provide the first two years of a four-year degree.

Several colleges now offer applied baccalaureate degrees. These degrees are practical, career-oriented degrees designed to meet the needs of the economy in high-demand fields. They allow students with a two-year associate degree in a specific career to earn a bachelor’s degree with two more years of coursework, preparing them for management-level positions.

Students who enroll for job training get a fast entry into well-paying career fields such as aerospace, cybersecurity, health care or clean energy. Colleges develop high-impact partnerships with businesses to predict areas of the most job growth, and then develop courses for students to fill those positions. The jobs lost during the recession won’t necessarily return, or even propel Washington further, in today’s innovative, global economy. Our two-year college system is the most nimble, effective tool to keep our state ahead of the game.

Students who intend to transfer to a four-year university complete the first two years of college and save thousands in the process. Students pile up less debt and arrive well-prepared, having already studied in small classes taught by instructors passionate about teaching.

Bachelor’s degree programs are also available on nearly every community or technical college campus, through on-campus university centers or other on-site partnerships with universities. Our colleges are proud to partner with Washington’s four-year colleges, some of the finest in the world.

To see success in action, just look to Community Colleges of Spokane. Transfer students from Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College are accepted into the University of Washington, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University and other excellent four-year universities in-state and around the nation. Community Colleges of Spokane was also first in the nation to launch American Honors, a rigorous community college honors program and network. The results have been impressive. Students have landed at Stanford, Georgetown, Cornell, Michigan and Gonzaga universities, and UW. Only one other college offers American Honors: Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana.

On the workforce front, Spokane and Spokane Falls community colleges are vital to the local health care industry. Spokane is the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle, and serves as a regional medical hub for residents from Eastern Washington, Montana, Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Spokane colleges train students for many health professions, from dental assisting and medical transcription to surgical and vascular technology. Students graduate with skills needed by local employers. Businesses get a talent pool to support their important work.

Recently, Spokane Falls Community College won a highly competitive $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the number of trained, certified health care workers with expertise in orthotics and prosthetics.

Spokane Community College is also the lead agency for Air Washington, a consortium of 11 Washington community and technical colleges that is implementing a $20 million Department of Labor grant to support the aerospace industry.

 Studies, statistics; behind all the numbers are moving success stories for Washington’s students, employers, and our economy.

When the Legislature reinvested in community and technical colleges last session, it wrote a positive chapter in the community college success story, a story that plays out for all of us in Washington.

Marty Brown is executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

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