Our community and technical colleges get little attention and support in the state budgeting process. They don’t have the high profile alumni and business supporters lobbying for investments.

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The opportunity of free community college for every qualified student could change tens of thousands of lives. Providing that opportunity will also increase support for the woefully underpaid part-time faculty who teach over half of all courses at our state’s community and technical colleges. For too long, we have not invested properly in our community and technical colleges — which are the path to opportunity for 300,000 students a year.

Free community college “Promise” programs are proven to dramatically boost low-income and minority students’ high school graduation rates. State Sen. David Frockt’s and my proposed “Washington Promise” (SHB 1840), and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s “Seattle Promise” proposal, recognize that it isn’t enough to just open the door without supporting students entering college to succeed. Low-income students, often the first in their families to go to college and /or immigrants, need strong support with advising and mentoring programs to succeed. Both the Seattle and Washington Promise proposals would invest in programs proven to as much as double completion rates of vulnerable students.

There is no need to choose between increasing support for part-time faculty and providing the “Washington Promise” and “Seattle Promise.”

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Providing free community college to every recent high school graduate whose family is below 70 percent of median family income, the first step in SHB 1840, would initially cost just $3.7 million a year. That cost would grow to just $6.7 million a year for every recent high-school graduate in Washington whose family is below median income. This cost includes $1.6 million a year to ensure these students have advising and mentoring programs proven to dramatically increase completion.

Working low-income single parents seeking degrees should also be eligible for our state’s subsidized child care, Working Connections, so they can attend community college and create security for their young families. I will be introducing legislation this month to end the bizarre bar preventing working single parents from having subsidized child care if they are in a degree program.

As for faculty salaries, our community colleges shifted to underpaid part-time faculty to reduce costs as state financial support plummeted. It is well documented that this impacts student success. Not only are our part-time faculty woefully underpaid, trying to piece together a living teaching at multiple colleges, they also aren’t available to mentor and advise students.

The American Federation of Teachers and Washington Education Association are active supporters of HB 1179, which I introduced in collaboration with them to provide pay equity and benefits for part-time faculty who teach the majority of courses. The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges understands the need to reverse the overreliance on part-time faculty. We have worked closely to propose investments increasing the percentage of full-time faculty and proven student success, retention and advising programs. Indeed, for this biennium, the House Democrats worked hard to secure $18 million in new support for these programs.

Seattle Colleges and Puget Sound regional community and technical colleges are challenged by the high costs of operating and living costs in the region. Statewide pay, maintenance and operational cost schedules make it even harder to recruit and retain faculty. Seattle Colleges’ Chancellor Shouan Pan recently met with Seattle’s legislators to discuss why, just as our state recently recognized that our public school teacher compensation needs regional adjustments, our community colleges in the central Puget Sound region also need extra regional support. The Seattle legislative delegation is committed to seeking that support for the central Puget Sound region’s colleges.

All too often, our community and technical colleges, however, get little attention and support in the state budgeting process. They don’t have the high profile alumni and business supporters lobbying for investments. Yet, the lives they change create opportunities for entire families and communities.

We need more voices to support investment in our state’s community and technical colleges, including child care, advising, pay equity for part-time faculty and offering the “Washington Promise” of free tuition for all qualified students.