Commentary: Better funding would help EdCC, EvCC prepare workforce

By David Beyer and Jean Hernandez

Each year, thousands of graduates from Everett and Edmonds community colleges land well-paying jobs or transfer to universities.

As two of the state’s 34 community and technical colleges, we offer tuition savings and real-world training in Snohomish County.

Yet community and technical colleges receive the lowest level of state funding per full-time student in Washington. Collectively, our colleges are operating at 2007 funding levels. This is damaging to our students and our state.

To meet the future needs of our students and communities, two-year colleges need an additional investment from the Washington Legislature.

Consider this: Of the 740,000 job openings in the next five years, more than half will require a college certificate or degree. Employers, meanwhile, are having a hard time finding skilled employees at the mid-level of education — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Community and technical colleges meet both needs.

A great example is Everett’s 54,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center (AMTEC). At the center, students train for high-demand jobs in machining, composites and engineering technology. In fact, Boeing chose AMTEC students as the first in the nation to participate in the company’s AerosPACE challenge to design, build, and fly an aircraft in 28 weeks.

Edmonds has a well-equipped engineering technology lab and houses the National Resource Center for Materials Education Technology, which provides materials technology curricula nationwide. Edmonds students learn about composite materials and engineering technology and prepare for careers or transfer into bachelor’s degree programs.

Together, our two colleges and the other community and technical colleges in our state are poised to narrow a skills-gap in the aerospace industry and other fields. We train computer science employees, welders, electricians, engineering technicians, commercial drivers, bookkeepers and nurses to meet industry needs.

We also help people who already have jobs stay up-to-date in their fields. In today’s typical manufacturing plant, for example, employees tend to work on a pristine shop floor surrounded by computers and robotic equipment. Where workers once used manual machines, today they use computerized equipment. Instead of pulling levers and pushing buttons, employees run machines from a screen. Current employees need to refresh and update their skills as much as college students need to learn them.

That’s why the community and technical college system is asking the Legislature for a 14 percent increase, $200 million, to its operating budget for all 34 colleges. The investment would help produce the diverse talent pool needed to fill thousands of jobs and grow Washington’s economy. Of that amount, Everett would receive an estimated $7.3 million and Edmonds would receive an estimated $8.3 million. These investments would ripple throughout Snohomish County’s economy.

Equally important, our colleges need to keep buildings and training facilities up-to-date. Today’s budget for maintenance and construction projects at community and technical colleges is 48 percent lower than the recession-era budget.

The community and technical college system is also asking the Legislature to reinvest in capital construction projects so students learn in modern, well-maintained buildings. The 25 projects on the request are listed in priority order. Two of those projects are at our colleges.

In Everett, we’re asking legislators to fund the design of a 70,000-square-foot Learning Resource Center — a step toward creating a new library that will be used by students from EvCC, Washington State University and other Everett University Center programs.

In Edmonds, we’re asking legislators to fund a new, 70,000-square-foot science, engineering and technology building to provide a state-of-the-art educational and training facility for STEM students.

Investments like these pay off many times over for Washington state. A new economic impact study shows that Washington’s community and technical colleges — including current and former students — add $20.5 billion to the state’s economy each year.

In 2014-15, Everett and its students added $537.4 million in income to Snohomish County’s economy while Edmonds and its students added $348.2 million for a total of $885.6 million.

The single most important factor in job creation in Washington is the quality of our workforce, and nobody else trains the workforce like community and technical colleges. Additional investments by the Legislature would be money well spent.

David Beyer is president of Everett Community College. Jean Hernandez is president of Edmonds Community College.

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