By Mary Cullinan and Sabah Randhawa
For The Herald
Eastern Washington University and Western Washington University anchor both sides of our state. While each university is distinctive, our mission and values are similar. Founded as colleges for teachers in the 19th century, our universities have evolved into institutions that transform the lives of students and work with employers and other partners to serve our growing state economy.
Each year as we graduate thousands of students, most of them Washingtonians, our universities help to ensure that our state continues to thrive with a knowledgeable professional work force and an informed citizenry. Our universities are significant engines for the economy and the well-being of the state.
Jennifer returned to college at age 36 after her husband’s sudden death. A stay-at-home mom with five children, she knew she needed a career, not just a job. She enrolled in Eastern Washington University and juggled work, parenting and school. As she prepared to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, she already had been offered an array of opportunities.
Sadly, many people continue to argue that “not everyone needs to go to college.” However, the degrees our students achieve benefit not only the graduates themselves but also their families, employers, and entire communities that rely on a professional workforce in order to thrive and grow.
Berenice was an instructional assistant who earned a bachelor’s degree in Western’s Pathway to Teaching program while she continued to work. Now a teacher in an elementary school in Skagit County, she teaches and mentors multilingual students and helps prepare them to be the first in their families to attend college.
According to the state of Washington’s Employment Security Department, 11 of the top 25 occupations in the state require a four-year degree. And all of those are by far the highest paying jobs on the top 25 list, ranging from $72,000 to more than $126,000 a year; jobs such as software developers, computer science professionals, managers, medical and health professionals, engineers and research analysts.
Nationwide, university graduates earn nearly 68 percent more than people with only a high school degree, and 42 percent more than those with a two-year degree. Moreover, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, not only do earnings increase but unemployment numbers decrease significantly for individuals with baccalaureate degrees.
Our two universities work to ensure that our degree offerings align with student demand as well as state needs. Eastern, for instance, offers the Microsoft professional program in data science in conjunction with our baccalaureate degree in data analytics, to help meet a massive shortage of data managers and analysts. Western’s manufacturing and supply chain management program ranks in the top 10 nationally — ahead of Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and offers students hands-on learning partnerships with Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, PACCAR, REI, Amazon, Crane Aerospace and other leading companies.
Another argument we often hear is “the cost of college isn’t worth it.” At under $7,000 per year, tuition at our institutions is less than at most universities. Since costs are lower, our students tend to borrow less than do students at more expensive universities. Almost half our students graduate with no debt. Students who do take out loans incur an average debt of $23,000, compared to a national average of $31,000. Both our institutions, also, offer an array of scholarships and financial aid options.
Donnie was the second of her seven siblings to finish high school and the first to attend college. Majoring in Criminal Justice at Eastern, she was supported by grants and scholarships such as the College Bound Scholarship, Golden Beaver Scholarship, Nora Stone Scholarship, Above and Beyond Award (for over 230 volunteer hours) and a Student Leadership Excellence Award for Diversity.
In a short time, a university degree from EWU or WWU more than pays for itself. But gaining a baccalaureate degree is not just about earnings. Our students gain critical thinking, teamwork and communication skills. They gain flexibility in their life choices. They are more easily able to change careers and change locations. They are often physically healthier and have longer life expectancies than people with only a high school diploma. They don’t rely on the state’s support services to the same extent as people without a college degree. And the children of college graduates are more likely to graduate from college and continue the family’s success into the next generations.
Every spring, our two universities graduate more than 7,000 students who enter the state’s professional workforce as engineers, health and business professionals, computer scientists, teachers and civic leaders. They pay taxes and contribute to the social and cultural life as well as the economic vitality of our communities.
A native of the Tri-Cities, Chelsea is a research associate at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the biological sciences division. Her background in cellular and molecular biology and hands-on research experience gained at Western prepared her for a career addressing big questions regarding human health.
Every year, several hundred thousand EWU and WWU alumni more than repay the state’s investment in their success. Together, our universities are economic and social engines, crucial for the prosperity of our state and the vibrancy of our local communities.
Mary Cullinan is president of Eastern Washington University. Sabah Randhawa is president of Western Washington University.