Shore up higher ed to lift economy
Higher education is Washington state's major economic driver, lifting citizens to more opportunities and the region to greater prosperity. But students need to be able to access affordable higher education to benefit the state.
Seattle Times Editorial
Washington's universities and colleges have borne the brunt of state budget cuts in recent years, in large part because lawmakers have not considered higher education to have the constitutional protection the K-12 system has enjoyed.
That is outdated thinking and a false economy.
If the state wants to provide more opportunities for its own young citizens and support the growth of well-paying high-tech jobs, the higher-education infrastructure must be robust. That means, research universities and graduate programs that are world-class, exceptional baccalaureate programs that are affordable and accessible, community colleges that cater to their local economy's urgent business needs and offer job training and retraining that gets, and keeps, people employed.
In a study released in August, the Brookings Institution affirmed what many of Seattle's high-tech employers have been highlighting for years. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue region has sizable gaps in how much education its workers have and how much education job openings require.
Last year, the area had 6.2 openings for jobs that typically require a bachelor's degree for every unemployed worker with a degree, according to The Conference Board, a nonprofit that tracks employment and education trends. But for unemployed people with a high-school diploma or less, there were only 1.8 job openings they might qualify for.
That translates to Boeing, Microsoft and other employers having to recruit workers from out of state and out of country to fill their job openings. Despite the region's business success, there remains a cost when so many of our young people are left behind educationally. Regions with fewer educated people tend to lag behind in key economic indicators, including entrepreneurs who start or expand businesses. Fewer new businesses mean fewer jobs overall and less support for higher education.
The grave disservice is to our own young citizens who can't get into state schools because there is no room, they are not prepared or they have been priced out of college by soaring tuition.
Students have been taxed mightily in this economic recession as resident undergraduate tuition rates have soared. As the Legislature slashed state funding, universities have made up some of the cuts through increased tuition. Over the past five years, resident undergraduate tuition has increased by 77 percent at Eastern Washington University and by 107 percent at the University of Washington.
State support of student financial aid was increased to help low-income students, but the steep tuition hikes squeeze middle-class families.
College completion leads to higher wages and better job stability. The unemployment rate for people with a high-school diploma or less is three times higher than for people with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Washington's public community colleges and universities do an excellent job educating the students they enroll. This state ranks No. 1 in the rate of freshmen and comunity-college students receiving baccalaureate degrees.
Not enough high school graduates in Washington aspire to college. Washington ranks in the bottom third of states in the number of bachelor's degrees produced relative to the state population.