Columbia Basin College's president thanked state lawmakers from the Mid-Columbia during a lunch Tuesday for making sure community colleges received more money this year and kept tuition rates frozen.
Rich Cummins quickly added that the state's community colleges will need more money -- almost $30 million -- to serve their communities and create a well-trained work force. That doesn't include millions more needed for two capital projects CBC wants to undertake.
Some lawmakers said they had concerns with specific issues, such as providing need-based grants to the children of immigrants and the implementation of four-year degrees at CBC, which typically are the realm of traditional universities.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't do what you're doing but we need to have a long-studied approach before moving too far forward," said state Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland.
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But they said CBC and other community colleges fill a vital need in a state that still is recovering from the recession and in need of qualified workers.
"We have a lot more people looking for work without the skills they need in the workplace," said state Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman.
Cummins said CBC, which started its fall term a week ago, is seeing more students each year as the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities grow. About 7,200 full- and part-time students are enrolled at CBC.
Its programs serve a variety of educational needs, from high-school equivalency preparation and career and work force training to associate degrees and even some bachelor's degrees.
Cummins said those opportunities are available at a cost that's affordable to many who couldn't otherwise afford an education after high school.
"The community college is one of the last engines people can use in America for social mobility," he said.
Sustaining that system needs more resources, though, Cummins said. More than $10 million worth of the money he asked lawmakers to support would go to faculty, specifically for compensation and cost-of-living increases. He said CBC has had trouble keeping and finding qualified staff because salaries were too low.
"We had a failed (candidate) search because of that very thing," he said of their efforts to find nursing instructors.
He and other community college officials also want to see more support for student grants as there are tens of thousands who qualify for programs but can't afford to enroll.
Separately, CBC needs of a new facility for its Department of Social Sciences and World Languages. A proposed $15 million facility on the northern end of the Pasco campus would bring the department under one roof and free up the college library for renovation.
Cummins said he'd also like the college to have a new 800-seat theater to better meet the needs of arts programs and to play host to visiting performances, but acknowledged that is a lower priority.
Fagan said she knew of an increased need for more grants to help students to enroll in a college or university but said she and her constituents are concerned about how those would be doled out when the children of full citizens and those of illegal immigrants are seeking them.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said many project bids at the community colleges have come in under budget and yet he hears college officials saying they aren't receiving enough in capital budgets.
State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, told the Herald she appreciates the work CBC does in the community. However, lawmakers have to consider numerous requests for additional funding.
"Everyone has their wish list but we have to take a long hard look at what we can do," she said.