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Wednesday, September 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Kevin Brockbank: State lawmakers wanted new pathways to career education – Spokane Community College wants a new pathway to a career

UPDATED: Thu., July 16, 2020

By Kevin Brockbank Spokane Community College

The Washington state legislature was loud and clear last year when it unanimously passed House Bill 1599 – a law that introduced sweeping changes to high school graduation requirements, making it easier for students to exit the K-12 system with a diploma in one hand and a roadmap in the other.

While the bill was lauded for removing required standardized tests, it also presented a new, less headline-grabbing opportunity for our students: the ability to quickly find a career after high school, while still enrolled in high school. Think Running Start, but with the goal of a career after the program ends, not a university.

It’s uncharted water upon which Spokane Community College immediately set sail. We’re calling it Running Start for Careers. It’s a necessary evolution to the model, at a time when our industry needs it most.

Similar to traditional Running Start programs, this latest initiative allows students to stay in high school while working toward their Associate of Applied Science degree or certificate. The best part? They will still graduate alongside their peers with a high school diploma.

According to data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, by 2028 nationwide high school graduates are expected to decrease by about 4%. That trend will likely continue, as a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Americans are having fewer and fewer babies.

At the same time, Baby Boomers – until recently, America’s largest generation until supplanted by Millennials – will be retiring in droves over the next five years. The inevitable outcome? A drastic workforce shortage – at least that’s what the industry in Spokane is telling us.

While the data also shows Washington colleges are headed toward a 7% enrollment increase by 2030, we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. Our job as a community college is to react quickly to the needs of our community, as well as the needs of our students and the life awaiting them after they leave our halls.

And while technical programs can have a certain stereotype, our initial list of 16 programs offered in Running Start for Careers is anything but stereotypical. We’ll have an accounting assistant program, a criminal justice program for students interested in becoming police officers, a culinary arts program, fire science, machining, welding and so on. The list will only grow from there.

An important part of this journey is the necessary working relationship with our K-12 partners. Mead School District has been our ally in getting this concept off the ground in the interest of providing the right pathways for students. This year we’ve held several enrollment events, and as we continue to work from home, we’ve even pivoted to Zoom info sessions every Tuesday.

We hope to expand to schools across the area counties and we hope other colleges in Washington follow suit. At the end of the day, they’ll probably have to, even as they experiment with new career-education programs.

As you know, Spokane is a unique city in Washington – due to its size, workforce diversity and bevy of careers that don’t require a traditional four-year degree. If we want to stick around another half century, we’ll have to meet industry where industry is headed, not where it’s been.

One of the main barriers Spokane Community College will face moving forward is making sure Running Start for Careers is accessible to all.

Technical programs often have hidden costs to entry, and it’ll be no different for high school students – things like paying for new knives for culinary students, scissors and products for students in cosmetology, tools for machinists or personal protective equipment for welders.

While we’re still working on a permanent solution, we already are collaborating with the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation – the nonprofit arm of the colleges responsible for raising money for student scholarships and programs – to engage our generous community and business donors so Running Start for Careers can be a reality for low-income students.

We also recently secured a second year of Metallica Scholars Program funding for students primarily in Allied Health Programs, Information Technology and Manufacturing

We are certain the Spokane business community, which is eager for skilled employees especially as our economy slowly starts to recover after COVID-19, will be generous in supporting Running Start for Careers to ensure that it continues and is available to all.

The Washington Legislature got this one right. HB 1599 will allow many high schoolers to transition straight into a career after graduation.

No more barriers and no more extra years spent in a college classroom when the destination is already marked on the roadmap.

Kevin Brockbank is the president of Spokane Community College.

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