What is the value of public higher education? How does it affect societal and economic issues in the Tri-Cities, the state and regional communities? This will be the topic of discussion at the Dec. 14 Badger Club forum.
The decrease in state funding of post-secondary education in Washington state has compelled our public institutions to redefine their role to students and the communities that they serve. The state of Washington is spending 15 percent less on post-secondary education, while tuition has increased 34 percent since the last recession. With changing funding models drifting from state taxpayers to student tuition, institutions have an increasing responsibility to provide educations attuned to the expectations of their students in challenging economic times.
Conversely, state funding is not — nor has it ever been — something taxpayers have paid for but seen as an investment. Since the beginning of the American higher education system, one of the perennial questions is how much of the cost of education should be borne by the government and how much by students and their families? Many Americans are quick to point out free public university education in nations such as Germany and Switzerland, but it is commonly omitted that public universities can only offer programs that have a workforce need. How should American universities balance workforce requirements with the other missions of generating knowledge, serving the community and advancing research?
The state of Washington has unique challenges aligning the state’s education and career training systems related to its dynamic STEM-driven economy (science, technology, engineering and math).
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A 2015 report by the state’s leading educational agencies illustrated the challenge by estimating a 22 percent difference between state workforce supply and demand in fields that require mid-level, bachelors and graduate credentials. The workforce demand is also exasperated by the state’s low performing rates of college completion (46th in the nation) and high export rates of college-bound students to out-of-state institutions (16th in the nation).
One emerging model in the state designed to meet the workforce demand is the expansion of technical schools and apprenticeship programs. These initiatives have shown immediate returns in meeting workforce demands. But while graduates from the program have significant applied skills, they may lack the broader foundational skills that a liberal arts education provides.
This coming Thursday provides an opportunity to explore the value of public higher education, the responsibility of the education and whom the institution should be responsible to. A presentation will be given by state leaders from the three major sectors of higher education in our state. Michael Meotti, Executive Director of the Washington State Achievement Council, and Cody Eccles, Director of Government Relations & Business Affairs for the Washington State Council of Presidents, will join me for the formal portion of the presentation.
After the formal presentation, there will be a 30-minute question-answer period, where we hope to explore the topic from a local, national and global perspective. Please remember that to ask a question, you must be a member of the Badger Club, and it is possible to join at the forum.
The Columbia Basin Badger Club is a nonpartisan Tri-City organization that is dedicated to civil discourse on topics important to our region.
Christopher Nesmith is the Career and Technical Education Director for West Valley School District.
If you go
- What: Columbia Basin Badger Club.
- When: 11:30 a.m. Thursday, December 14. Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland.
- Cost: Advance registration is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. Day of event is $30. Lunch is included with the forum.
- Register: Go to columbiabasinbadgers.com or call 628-6011