Business leaders and government officials worried about Washington’s economic future should keep their attention focused on the state’s community and technical colleges.

Share story

LEADERS focused on the jobs of the future, whether in business or government, already know the importance of the training and education available at Washington’s community and technical colleges.

It is disappointing that the Legislature, under court pressure to fully fund K-12 schools, seems to be eyeing higher education and early learning for cuts. The state Senate used cuts to community and technical colleges to help balance its proposed biennial budget.

The Legislature should be looking for ways to enhance colleges and help more students get a degree or certificate after high school, not using Washington’s higher education system as a rainy-day fund.

As the Washington Roundtable and others say repeatedly, most of the jobs of the future will require more training after high school. The business-supported public policy advocacy group predicts there will be 740,000 job openings in Washington state over the next five years. Most of those job will require workers who have a college degree or some kind of post-high-school career training leading to a certificate.

Now, only 31 percent of Washington high school students go on to earn a postsecondary credential by age 26. Between 20 and 25 percent of each class drops out before graduating, 14,000 more do not continue their education after high school and 21,000 who enroll do not earn a postsecondary credential. The Washington Roundtable and its economic research consultants say the goal should be 70 percent of high-school graduates earning a credential by age 26.

That’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one, as long as Washington continues to build its community- and technical-college system, where most of those high-school graduates will get the advanced training they need to get those jobs or go on to a four-year university.

The Senate’s proposed cut in state funding for some tuition waivers, including for , people just learning English and others could cost the community college system $8 million, according to state college officials. That is a terrible plan for balancing the budget.

Lawmakers should also put more money into the state scholarship fund for low-income students. More than 20,000 students who qualify for the State Need Grant aren’t getting financial help because the fund doesn’t contain enough money.

The Legislature needs to stay laser-focused on education, from early learning through college. All three parts of the state’s education system need to be strong if Washington state kids are going to fill the future jobs created by Washington state businesses.

Information in this article, originally published May 1, 2017, was corrected May 5, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that waivers for veterans’ tuition might be reduced under the Senate’s proposed budget. They are not part of the proposal.