By James Gaudino and Jack Oharah
State policymakers face very difficult decisions as they search for ways to fill a $2.6 billion budget gap. Past practice has been to dramatically cut support for public colleges and universities. In the current budget, Central Washington University has lost 30 percent of its state support and Edmonds Community College has lost more than 20 percent.
As the budget picture worsens, higher education is again a target for policymakers, even as they argue that their top priority is economic recovery. If lawmakers want to grow the economy and revive the state’s workforce, they should be investing in higher education — not steadily withdrawing state support from our colleges and universities.
Clearly, public demand for higher education is at an all-time high. CWU and Edmonds CC have stepped forward to meet the needs of our community by enrolling thousands more students than the state has supported.
Much of this demand is fueled by students looking for a college or university degree to provide them with economic stability. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data clearly show the economic value of higher education: Last spring, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was 16 percent, compared with under 8 percent for those with an associate’s degree, and just 3.8 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree.
Colleges and universities also contribute directly and immediately to local economies by purchasing key services and materials from area businesses. Their construction projects create family-wage jobs in an economy that has shed more than 27 percent of construction jobs since the beginning of the recession.
Of course people are the heart and soul of universities and colleges, and faculty, staff and students play a powerful role in the local economy. Their spending on food, housing and retail goods supports local business and generates the tax revenue communities depend on to pay for critical services.
The loss of state support for colleges and universities comes with a price tag: increased tuition. For the first time in more than a century, our public universities receive the majority of their funding from private sources: students and their families. Over the last decade, the price students pay to earn a degree has increased by more than 100 percent at both CWU and Edmonds CC.
The cost to students and their families is high and the lasting damage to our prosperity is a price we all pay.
However, policymakers seeking high quality, affordable solutions to meeting the needs of citizens and businesses for a well-educated community need look no further than the University Center partnership between Edmonds CC and CWU.
For the past 30 years, Edmonds CC and CWU have combined their resources and expertise to put degree programs within reach of North Puget Sound residents. Students can earn an associate’s degree from Edmonds CC and then walk across campus to earn a bachelor’s degree from the CWU-Lynnwood center. Students at University Centers transfer easily between the community college and the university.
University Centers are an excellent way of providing high quality educational opportunities that are affordable and easily accessible. Responsive to students and business, strategically located and economical, the CWU-Lynnwood University Center is ready to help the state meet the demand for higher education during tough economic times.
James Gaudino is president of Central Washington University. Jack Oharah is president of Edmonds Community College.