Comment: For success, more students need education, training

To get well-paying jobs, high school graduates need to enroll and complete credential courses.

By Barbara Hulit and Daria Willis / For The Herald

Recent months have caused hardship for students, families and communities across Snohomish County as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty runs deep about what the new school year will bring, how families will manage unstable financial situations, and how we collectively fight and recover from the pandemic.

A new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning explores lessons we can apply from the Great Recession to circumstances today. For example, people of color, young adults and individuals with a high school education or less are disproportionately affected in economic downturns. Additionally, workers who complete a post-high school credential fare far better during the downturn and in recovery. Finally, postsecondary enrollment grows in times of recession, but it is credential completion — finishing that degree, apprenticeship or certificate — that matters.

Early data from this new recession tell us that, once again, people of color, young workers, and people with a high school diploma or less are bearing the economic brunt of this new recession. More than half of Black (56 percent) and Hispanic and Latinx (60 percent) households nationwide reported employment loss due to the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in May for workers age 20 to 24 was more than two times that of workers age 25 to 54. More than two-thirds of workers claiming unemployment in Washington state in May did not have a credential, a 14-percentage point overrepresentation compared to the unemployment rate of non-credentialed workers in the general population.

These data underscore the need to address two realities: One, far too few Washington students are earning the credentials they need (just 41 percent of the high school class of 2017 is projected to complete a credential by age 26). And two, our Black, Hispanic and Latinx, and Native American students are earning credentials at even lower rates.

As leaders in business and education in the Snohomish County community, we see strong correlations between education attainment, job security and long-term opportunity, and we believe our state must break down barriers to postsecondary education completion for those furthest from opportunity.

How do we increase the rate at which Washington students — particularly Black, Hispanic and Latinx, and Native American students — earn a credential after high school, such as a degree, apprenticeship or certificate? It’s a question with big and varied answers that has become all the more challenging during the pandemic.

One opportunity available to students from low-income backgrounds is the Washington College Grant. For students with household incomes of less than $97,000 for a family of four, the grant can cover some or all of the costs of earning a credential.

Additionally, postsecondary institutions, including the many colleges and universities in our region, are eager to support students with innovation and flexibility. We can and should preserve student supports and use strategies to bring students back to school who have previous college experience but no credential.

At Everett Community College, students meet with an adviser (via video or phone now) to create a custom education plan before they begin their first quarter that takes into account their previous credits and their future goals. Advisers help students identify a clear path to earning a certificate or a degree and beyond; whether that’s transfer to a university or employment.

The future ahead may be unclear, but we cannot lose sight of the importance of credential attainment in enabling students to succeed in today’s economy and in their communities. The challenges are substantial, the stakes are high, and credentials will be essential for Washington students. We all have a role to play in getting them there.

Barbara Hulit is a senior vice president at Fortive Corp., an Everett-based industrial technologies company. Dr. Daria Willis is the president of Everett Community College.

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