Four popular Seattle Colleges programs have been saved from the chopping block for the next school year.
But it will take sustained public and private investments to make sure the community college system can continue offering vital career and technical education programs and making higher education more accessible to all.
An estimated $13 million budget shortfall led Seattle Colleges officials last month to briefly consider shuttering the Maritime Academy, Wood Technology Center, and Seattle Central’s Culinary Arts and Apparel Design and Development programs. The drastic proposal was met with public outcry from students, alumni and employers, and also with offers of assistance. The city of Seattle is providing $1 million in one-time funding for the maritime program.
College leaders now say all four of the programs will be available for fall enrollment. But long-term changes will be needed to ensure their long-term viability.
Lagging enrollment, particularly among international students, and extra pandemic-fueled expenses are partly to blame for the college’s budget shortfall, said Seattle Colleges Chancellor Shouan Pan. But the schools’ budget woes predate the pandemic, because state funding does not adequately cover the cost of certain programs, he said.
College officials have looked for internal savings, including a 15% reduction in administrative costs and 5% across-the-board reduction in spending, increasing the faculty-student ratio in some programs, looking for profitable new program opportunities and soliciting private donations.
But cuts can go only so deep. State lawmakers and employers should step up to help.
Seattle Colleges Board Chair Louise Chernin and state Rep. Frank Chopp are co-chairing a new effort to do just that. Chopp, the former House speaker, wants to solicit stronger support from employers and create closer alignment between workforce needs and course offerings, citing the Washington State Ferries’ crew shortages as an example.
He wants to build on the 2019 Workforce Education Investment Act, which raised about $1 billion over four years to cover the cost of higher education for low-income students and established Career Connect Washington.
That’s an appropriately ambitious benchmark. A strong community and technical college system is necessary for students, employers and the state’s economic health.