State lawmakers are poised to adopt two ambitious goals for higher education that, if achieved, could supply Washington businesses with the skilled workforce it needs. But today, state employers say they must recruit applicants from other states to fill some 25,000 jobs.
The problem is that fewer than 50 percent of Washington’s current adult population has completed a postsecondary certificate, apprenticeship or degree. Yet it’s estimated that by 2016 more than 75 percent of Washington jobs will require education or job training beyond high school.
If we don’t close that gap, business will move to states that produce more graduates prepared to compete in a global economy. And Washington will eventually lose jobs.
At the start of this legislative session, the Washington Student Achievement Council presented the Legislature with a Ten-Year Roadmap to increase educational attainment. It proposes establishing two overriding goals:
• That all adults in Washington, ages 25 to 44, have a high school diploma or equivalent; and,
• That at least 70 percent of Washington adults have a postsecondary credential.
House Bill 2626 — co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Reykdal — recognizes those two goals. It passed 87-10, and a Senate version is headed to a floor vote. It appears lawmakers will send this bill to the governor’s desk.
That’s the good news. There is value in setting high-level statewide goals. They provide planning targets and a focal point for adopting future education strategies and policies. Washington would join our West Coast neighbors, Oregon and California, and other states in cementing educational goals in statute.
And maybe that’s all the Legislature can achieve during this year’s 60-day session. But without making a serious commitment to supporting measures, simply stating goals rings a little hollow.
The WSAC asked lawmakers to commit $12 million to fully fund the College Bound Scholarship program to serve all 8,000 eligible students over the next two years. It wanted $16 million to increase the number of students served by the State Need Grant program, but lawmakers found only $5 million.
To achieve the Roadmap’s goals, legislators must pass a number of supporting bills, such as HB 2383, which addresses barriers to students’ participation in the Running Start program and integrates career and college readiness standards into K-12 and higher education policies.
House Bill 2285 calls for a review of higher education policies related to dual credit coursework. And SB 5969 would provide veterans with academic credit for military training.
This is important work. Recent studies show that people with postsecondary degrees or certificates earn more, and that college graduates save taxpayers up to $108,700 during their lifetimes through reduced utilization of social support programs and lower incarceration rates.
The Ten-Year Roadmap provides lawmakers with a cohesive and comprehensive plan to increase the number of Washington adults completing postsecondary certification. Acknowledging the Roadmap’s main goals is a good start, but it’s not enough.