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Wednesday, February 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Higher-ed investment essential

This is a great time to find a job – if you have the right education and training. Unemployment in our region is at record lows, new business and industry is moving to Spokane County and surrounding Eastern Washington communities, and a large wave of retirements promises to create a steady stream of opportunities.

A new report by Washington STEM found the Eastern Region of the state will have 3,877 annual projected job openings over the next five years in health care, business and IT professions, construction apprentices, engineers and teachers. People with skills and degrees are in high demand.

Likewise, this is a great time to expand or open a business or industry in the Inland Northwest – if you can find enough skilled employees. Our affordability and quality of life is a great selling point, our municipalities and economic development groups are working together to recruit new investments and our region has been in the national spotlight for many successes.

Greater Spokane Incorporated and the business community partners with higher education to develop a strong workforce and many businesses offer internships, apprenticeships and even help pay for their employees’ continuing education through GSI’s Greater Minds program.

Spokane County residents lag the state in the number of people with bachelor’s degrees per capita. Only 28.7 percent of the adults in our part of the state have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 33.6 percent statewide. And many jobs are going unfilled because people don’t have the needed training and skills. At the same time, hard-working members of our community are not earning a living wage, are underemployed and need to get additional education to get better jobs.

We applaud our state legislators for their huge investment in K-12 schools in the most recent state budget. That support was necessary and helped ensure the effectiveness of our schools as they educate our children.

But we believe the K-12 investment has left the work of educating Washington only partially done. As lawmakers begin their work in Olympia to develop the budget for the next two years, we urge them to invest in higher education. We especially encourage them to provide greater funding for community and technical colleges, the most affordable and effective way to quickly close the skills and education gap in our communities.

According to the Washington Roundtable, there will be 740,000 job openings statewide by 2021 and more than half will require education past high school. People need a range of pathways to those jobs, whether it’s an employer certificate, training in a trade, a two-year degree, a four-year degree, or an apprenticeship.

Our professional/technical programs and apprenticeships at Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College provide direct pathways to high-wage in-demand careers. Plus our affordable two-year transfer degrees with strong partnerships at the area universities are excellent pathways to four-year degrees. CCS offers among the largest adult basic education programs in the state to help those in our region who lag in skills and economic mobility without postsecondary credentials or English fluency. CCS quite literally transforms lives and shapes futures for students and families.

Last year, the Legislature took steps to begin to fully fund the State Need Grant by 2023. We encourage the Legislature to continue this momentum so all students who qualify will receive state financial aid.

Our system of 34 community and technical colleges is working together seeking investments in three other key areas for students: guided career pathways, training in high-demand careers and exceptional instruction.

We are implementing guided pathways, a nationally proven way to help students stay on track and graduate on time by choosing a course of study earlier and taking their classes in the right order. This approach ties their education to specific career goals.

We celebrate the investment the state has made in K-12 and ask legislators to now focus on funding education beyond high school. Our community and technical colleges and our four-year university partners are ready to continue helping our communities and our economy by preparing a talented and trained workforce for the future.

The success of our economy depends on it.

Dr. Christine Johnson is chancellor, Community Colleges of Spokane;

Tom Johnson is chairman of the board of trustees, Greater Spokane Incorporated;

Todd Mielke is chief executive officer, Greater Spokane Incorporated.

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