Op-Ed

Preparing students for technical careers is an investment that pays dividends to the community

Bellingham Technical College celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017-18.
Bellingham Technical College celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017-18. The Bellingham Herald file

When you do something for 60 years, you tend to get pretty good at it.

As Bellingham Technical College celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017-18, there are many accomplishments for our college to be proud of: high graduation rates (the third highest of all public two-year colleges in Washington state), high job placement rates and high wages for our graduates, to name a few.

In past 10 years BTC has awarded more than 8,900 degrees, certificates and apprenticeships to students who go on to start great careers, using what they learn here to support themselves and their families to create a stronger, more vibrant community. BTC graduates are hygienists cleaning your teeth, technicians fixing your car, nurses taking your blood pressure in the hospital, the electricians wiring your home, operators overseeing the refineries that surround us, and much more.

Whether you realize it or not, what happens at BTC plays a part in your life. It’s the quiet ripple effect of a good education. Aside from the services and improvements they provide to their communities, BTC grads are good for the economy. BTC alumni bring $117.4 million to regional income annually through increased productivity, according to an Emsi economic modelling study from 2011.

You don’t make it this far without being able to evolve and adapt to the needs of an ever-changing economy and workforce. To give our students the best preparation for their careers, we listen to the needs of employers and industry representatives. Then we translate the demands of modern industry into our program labs.

Hands-on learning

Our students don’t learn how to weld – or cook, work in an operating room or operate a robotic arm – by sitting at a desk in a classroom. Every lesson and lecture is reinforced in the lab, whether it is in a fast-paced kitchen, a nursing simulation lab or an engineering lab.

Preparing students for technical careers takes a highly technical campus, and that costs more money than traditional classrooms. Bellingham Technical College’s program labs allow students to practice creating the perfect weld, find a vein in an arm, bake and taste the perfect pastry or configure an advanced computer application. Students receive one-on-one training on how to repair an HVAC system, operate a CNC machine to make a precision tool, repair a diesel engine or supply clean energy. Our community depends on the graduates of our programs to run our infrastructure, and our students depend on our labs to prepare themselves to do that.

Along with innovative labs and experienced instructors, an equally important component to getting graduates over the finish line is providing them the support services needed to help them stay in school and graduate.

We pride ourselves on the wrap-around support services we offer our students outside of the classroom, but this investment in our students is costly. Behind each student’s success are advisors, coaches and talented instructors, all focused on making sure our students stay in school, progress and graduate. We know that balancing life, work, school and family can be a challenge for students and our goal is to provide a helping hand at each possible barrier. We offer a variety of financial aid and funding options, tutoring, intensive support services and more. It takes a village to graduate students successfully and BTC strives to be that village for our students.

It is time to reframe the view and value of the education that technical colleges produce. Preparing students for technical careers is an investment, and it pays dividends: highly trained workers who support their community both with much-needed skills and tax dollars. Please encourage your legislators to fund BTC. Our students, our community and our economy will benefit.

Kimberly Perry is president of Bellingham Technical College.

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