Area colleges best value in education

  • By Lee Lambert and Jack Oharah
  • Tuesday, October 28, 2008 5:39pm

When economic times get tough, when the jobless rate is going up along with the cost of seemingly everything else, where do people turn?

Community colleges.

Snohomish County’s community colleges were already serving large numbers of students. Now Edmonds Community College has seen a 7.7 percent enrollment increase, enrolling 8,874 students for fall. In North King County, Shoreline Community College has seen a 7.1 percent increase, enrolling 7,596 students for fall. Some smaller community colleges across the state are seeing double-digit percentage enrollment increases.

Community colleges fill a variety of key educational roles. When economic hard times force employment shifts, community colleges deliver job retraining programs. If industry needs skill-specific employees, it turns to community colleges to provide the necessary education. Students on a four-year degree path choose to take their first steps at close-to-home community colleges and find quality instruction along with cost and energy efficiencies. And, as society ages, retirees look to community colleges for enrichment.

Dollar for dollar, community colleges are the most efficient education delivery system in the state.

Across the state, our colleges serve nearly 500,000 students each year — 60 percent of all students enrolled in public higher education. Two-year colleges provide the initial education for 41 percent of students receiving bachelor’s degrees. This includes 53 percent of K-12 teachers; 38 percent of engineering, technology, science, and math bachelor’s degrees; and about 78 percent of nurses.

More than a third of our students are the first in their families to have the opportunity to complete a college degree. About a quarter of them rely on financial aid. In addition, community colleges provide 95 percent of all adult literacy education in the state in supportive settings that allow completion of high-school degrees and GEDs.

Industry, too, finds efficiencies in the community college system.

Business-skills development programs are typically much less expensive to implement through the community college system than through private firms. Highly skilled, career-specific training is also available at community colleges ranging from nurses to biotechnology laboratory technicians and from cutting-edge materials science workers to hybrid automobile technicians.

Unfortunately, as with most things, the cost of getting an education in Washington is going up.

The State Board of Community and Technical Colleges earlier this year increased tuition for this fall by roughly 2 percent, far less than the increase in the cost of operating our colleges. While the state board and all of those connected with the community-college system are concerned about keeping costs low and maintaining broad access, it is important to note that community colleges are still by far the best value in higher education.

Students taking the first two years at a community college save approximately $6,500 in undergraduate tuition payments and are as well or better academically prepared to complete their four-year degrees.

The savings can be even more substantial for professional-technical training.

An investment in community and technical colleges now will help speed up Washington’s economic recovery, creating opportunities for individuals and a better future for King and Snohomish counties.

It’s no secret to those facing change, either by choice or force, that community colleges are their best partner. Lawmakers and state officials look to community colleges for economic solutions and workforce development, especially during economic downturns. Please join us in asking the Legislature to support your community colleges.

Lee Lambert is president of Shoreline Community College. Jack Oharah is president of Edmonds Community College.

Talk to us