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Taxpayers’ investment in our colleges pays off

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By John Burbank
Published:
Last Sunday I was bicycling by the University of Washington and practically had to stop because of all the people mobbing the path.
Dawg Days had begun. So what are Dawg Days? That’s what’s called “orientation” in non-husky language, for the incoming freshman. The fun ends and the work begins for them today, when classes start.
It is also back to school this week for students at Everett and Edmonds community colleges, the University of Washington Bothell campus, and numerous other public higher education colleges around the state. This year Everett is geared up to teach more than 20,000 students. Edmonds Community College will enroll about 11,000 students. The freshmen at UW are part of the 40,000 undergraduates who start classes today. Every single one of these students, those who pay full tuition and those who receive scholarships and loans, is a direct beneficiary of our government.
For every student paying full tuition at the University of Washington, the taxpayers of this state are chipping in $8,426, plus $336 in federal stimulus this year. For every student paying full tuition at EvCC, the taxpayers help out with $5,091 from the state, plus $360 from the federal stimulus. This is a good thing, not just for parents and students paying the tuition, but for all of us. The government should be in the business of educating the next generations of leaders, organizers, politicians, administrators, technologically savvy entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, engineers, teachers, writers and thinkers immersed in creating and explaining the world around us.
Can you imagine our state with the University of Washington, Bellingham without Western Washington, or Everett minus its community college? It would be like drilling a hole through the heart of our community. And it would set the stage for economic stagnation, leaving us further and further behind in the global economy.
As part of our public higher education system, we have one of the best networks of community colleges in the country. This network was built in the late 1960s, thanks to the leadership of Republican Gov. Dan Evans. Many vocational-technical schools, which had been part of the K-12 system, converted to community colleges with extended education. As a result, we now have 34 community and technical colleges all around our state, serving 140,000 full-time-equivalent students, which means that easily, more than 200,000 of our state residents are currently learning in our community college system.
In Everett, a high school graduate can enroll in community college, no questions asked. You can join thousands of other students at Everett Community College each year in learning and earning your way to a certificate in various technical, vocational and professional programs. You can choose to follow an academic track, earning an Associate’s degree and then transferring to a four-year university like the UW or Western. If you want to, you can continue at Everett to earn a bachelor’s degree through Western’s outstanding environmental studies department.
If you are making up for lost time, you can start out earning your GED and high school diploma. If you don’t have the money, the college will bend over backward to figure out how to enable you to be a student. Everett has just added an early learning center to serve more children and enable the one-third of community college students with kids to continue their own education. And for each one of these students, the state — that is, the taxpayers — covers about two-thirds of the cost of education at Everett. It is well worth it, for the students, the college and the community.
College is not just for those of us who graduate directly from high school. Almost half of the students at Everett are older than 25. Of all the students, one-third are in academic programs, one-third in vocational-technical programs, and the rest are pursuing basic skills or personal interest. One out of five are in evening courses, fitting in education with work and family.
Our community colleges and universities are just that — ours. Their doors are open for you. So if you are interested, or just want to exercise your intellect and take a break from the latest “Mad Men” episode, check out your local community college (www.everettcc.edu or www.edcc.edu).
School is starting. Thank our government. And don’t miss the boat!

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle (www.eoionline.org). His e-mail address is john@eoionline.org.

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