Washington state has nearly three dozen community and technical colleges that help prepare thousands of students each year for careers or and thousands more with an affordable start on four-year degrees. These schools play an essential role in our state’s economy, which is something that seems to be undervalued. We can no longer afford to take these schools for granted.
Whatever the reason, community colleges have been woefully underfunded by the state Legislature for several years.
That needs to change now. The lack of funding is eroding these schools as retaining faculty is becoming more difficult.
Last week, about 1,000 students and faculty at two-year schools in Western Washington walked out of class for a day to gain attention for the need for more funding.
For the past few years, the Legislature has been fixated (and with good reason as it was under a court order) with fully funding basic education. It pumped $7 billion more in the K-12 system over the past five years, and raised property taxes across the state to pay for it.
The state’s universities have also been getting more fiscal attention from the Legislature.
The community and technical colleges have suffered as a result.
“I often feel that community colleges are the forgotten children of higher education,” said English professor Phebe Jewell of Seattle Central College.
Her analogy is spot on.
Community and technical colleges deserve more attention. And that, of course, applies to our own Walla Walla Community College.
WWCC President Derek Brandes said that although the state has recovered from the recession of a decade ago, funding has not picked up for the community colleges.
Brandes said lawmakers are not prioritizing the two-year schools to help them rebound sufficiently. When college faculty get a cost-of-living pay adjustment, it’s not fully covered by the state’s funding, which is targeted at 65 percent of the cost of running the school. That means it has to be made up by charging students more or making cuts.
Community-college faculty in Washington state are paid around 12 percent less than faculty in peer states, according to a study prepared by the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.
If community colleges can’t retain good instructors then the quality of education suffers and, ultimately, so does the state’s economy.
Community and technical colleges play a huge role in this state’s higher education system and it’s time lawmakers acknowledge that and fund them appropriately.