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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lisa Brown and Mary Cullinan: Higher ed funds critical to region

Special to The Spokesman-Review

Lisa Brown And Mary Cullinan

Public universities have a long history of collaboration, investment and economic impact in the Inland Northwest. Now our public institutions of higher learning are poised to usher in a new era of innovation and prosperity.

You’ve heard about the initiative to create a new medical school at Washington State University Spokane. You know that we have a new College of Health Science and Public Health at Eastern Washington University Spokane. These are just two of the many creative initiatives that will continue invigorating this region.

While our institutions continue to bring tremendous value to the state, debate continues in Olympia about how the state should be funding education. Those discussions will intensify in the coming weeks as the House and Senate debate how to adequately fund higher education while keeping tuition affordable for Washington families. What can’t be lost in the dialogue is the fact that higher education is critical to the future of our region.

Investments in education are investments in our young people, in our families and in our workforce.

Public universities are key to ensuring that Washingtonians have good jobs and good wages, that our state remains competitive. In today’s knowledge economy, possessing a college degree significantly increases a person’s chances of getting a job. On average, workers with bachelor’s degrees earn 84 percent more than those with only high school diplomas.

By 2018, it is projected that 70 percent of the jobs in our state will demand some postsecondary education. We need to ensure that Washington’s adults are ready to fill those jobs.

WSU and EWU are preparing students for this future. We are developing and expanding degrees in high demand areas such as health care, computer science and engineering. In 2013, nearly 25 percent of all EWU graduates and 28 percent of all WSU graduates had STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees. We expect those numbers to keep increasing. Our graduates will help fill the 25,000 jobs in Washington that have been vacant due to a lack of qualified candidates.

We’re working to make sure that first-generation students have the opportunity to attend college, and that they have the support to graduate. We’re innovating in student advising and expanding access through online classes. We’re creating outreach and STEM programs in high schools that help expose our young people to growing career fields and the education they require. We’re finding creative ways to drive efficiency and maximize the impact of our funding.

But we need your help. Washington still ranks near the bottom in the country in funding for public higher education. That funding helps to keep our institutions affordable. Today, Washington’s public, four-year college students pay more than 60 percent of the cost of their education. That’s more than double what they paid a decade ago.

Why does this matter?  The cost of higher education, and the debt many families must shoulder to pay for it, has a chilling effect on ensuring opportunity for all Washington children. We can do better.

Investment in higher education generates a significant return for our state, not only in qualified workers but in jobs, research dollars and new businesses.

From 2011 to 2013, WSU generated over $600 million in research expenditures, helped generate 13 startup companies and filed 83 new patent applications. Overall, the university generated $18.87 in economic impact for every $1 of state funding it received.

Recent data showed that spending related to EWU’s students, operations and capital projects increased Spokane County output by $442 million, affected incomes by $162 million and generated 4,186 additional jobs.

Together, WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane employ the largest state workforce in the county. Our graduates live and work in our community. Our alumni are the teachers, entrepreneurs and engineers, the health science professionals and business leaders at the heart of our regional workforce. Our alumni fuel our local economy.

EWU and WSU are critical public assets that generate local economic growth, workforce training and innovation. Our institutions are fundamental to the region’s cultural and social vitality.

Please work with us to carry that message to Olympia. With your help, our universities will continue providing affordable access to students throughout our region and our state.

Lisa Brown is the chancellor of Washington State University Health Sciences-Spokane. Mary Cullinan is the president of Eastern Washington University.
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