Guest Opinions

Legislators urged to make higher education a priority

From left, Rebekah Woods, president of Columbia Basin College and Sandra Haynes, chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities
From left, Rebekah Woods, president of Columbia Basin College and Sandra Haynes, chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities Courtesy of WSU Tri-Cities

The 2019 state legislative session will soon be underway and our legislators will be tasked with writing the next biennial budget. Upon weighing many competing and important demands in the process, we encourage our lawmakers to make higher education a priority because of the significant need for higher education funding that exists today.

The Boston Consulting Group, in partnership with the Washington Roundtable, predicts Washington state will have nearly three times the national growth rate in jobs by 2021, citing an unprecedented 740,000 job openings. They project more than half of those jobs will require education beyond high school. Individuals will thus need a variety of pathways to obtain those jobs including certificates, trade training, apprenticeships, two-year degrees, four-year degrees, and/or graduate degrees. Regardless of the path chosen, higher education translates across all.

In order for the Tri-Cities to meet the current and future workforce demands, we have much work to do. According to the Benton-Franklin Trends Website, only 34.1 percent of the population in our counties in 2017 had at least some college, yet nearly half of the jobs in our counties required at least some college.

When we look at college degrees, 8.9 percent of the population in the bi-county area achieved an associate degree compared with 10.1 percent as the state average. Approximately 15.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree compared with 22.2 percent in the state and 19.7 percent in the nation. This gap in credential attainment compared to what is needed to obtain the jobs available in the Tri-Cities outlines the work and need for higher education.

Through higher education, our community members obtain good jobs with family-sustaining wages to achieve better lives for themselves, their families and generations to come. Individuals also improve their critical thinking, are exposed to global concepts, interact with those unlike themselves and generally gain career skills that help grow and define productive employees.

These are skills that transcend multiple career paths, making a variety of careers not only possible, but plausible. Here in the Tri-Cities, with partnerships between our institutions growing stronger and more innovative, opportunities for advancing education have never been greater.

At Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities, we work hard to ensure that pathways into and between our institutions are seamless. We want to be the catalysts for our students’ achievements and our communities’ growth and advancement. We are committed to providing education that is responsive to the needs of Tri-City employers and diverse student populations.

Today, the United States features the most diverse community of students it has ever seen.

WSU-Tri-Cities and CBC are no exception.

Nearly 42 percent of WSU Tri-Cities students identify among minority groups and approximately 40 percent are the first in their family to attend college. Similarly at CBC, 51 percent of students identify with minority groups and more than 40 percent are the first in their family to attend college. We continue to provide pathways for many who never thought college would be an option.

Education is the great equalizer.

We encourage the Legislature to invest in higher education so it is achievable and affordable for all Washingtonians. We understand the state is facing many pressing issues. Investing in higher education is one solution to enhance employability and economic growth and foster healthy, working communities. Education is a key investment legislators can make to create thriving communities and economies.

Sandra Haynes is chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities and Rebekah Woods is president of Columbia Basin College.