State must find more money for higher education

The Olympian, March 25, 2014

The board members of the Independent Colleges of Washington applaud the recent action by the Legislature to embrace the higher education attainment goals proposed by the Washington State Student Achievement Council. These goals are a foundational and much-needed commitment to improving college graduation rates in our state.

A recent study from Georgetown University predicts that by 2020 our state’s economy will produce approximately 1.2 million job openings, and 40 percent of those will be new jobs. This is good news, but the study warns that nearly 70 percent of these job openings will require at least some post-secondary education. This is an alarming statistic and a compelling call for action.

We must first better prepare students from our K-12 system to attend and graduate from college. Currently only 19 percent of Washington’s ninth-graders will receive an associate degree or higher. This deficit is unacceptable.

As The Olympian notes in a recent editorial (March 13, 2014: “Give kids a chance”) the College Bound Program is a promising program to overcome this deficit.

We too are thankful that the Legislature and governor fully funded it in the 2014 supplemental budget just adopted. High school graduation rates for College Bound students are nearly 79 percent compared with less than 60 percent for other low-income students.

ICW believes that our state must do much more in the next legislative session to overcome the state’s low college graduation rates. We must commit to a broad system that provides access to higher education for everyone who desires it. This is a promise that must be made and kept.

And to keep this promise requires a sustained level of funding that at a minimum returns to pre-recession levels. We appreciate the current budget constraints of the state. But getting ready for the next biennial budget, legislative leaders must find additional resources for education.

Currently, about 32,000 eligible students are not receiving the financial aid they need from the state to go to college. We must find consistent funding to open the door to a higher education experience for these students.

This need is even more critical when one considers that student aid is one of the ways of overcoming the huge inequity in educational achievement in this state linked to underrepresented racial and ethnic populations.

Washington’s network of 10 independent colleges and universities, including Saint Martin’s University, is committed to work with our local education partners including here in the South Sound doing what we can to improve our K-12 and higher education system.

Collectively, members of the Independent Colleges of Washington confer 20 percent of the baccalaureate college degrees in our state while receiving only 2 percent of the state’s higher education budget. Of students who start at Washington’s private nonprofit colleges, 92 percent complete within six years.
This rate is the fourth in the nation compared with all other sectors. But we can and must do more.

In this, our 60th anniversary year, ICW institutions have challenged ourselves to work with other higher education institutions to create a broad-based and sustainable coalition committed to collaborative strategies for transforming the higher education system in our state.

If successful, it will have a profound impact on the future of our youth, our economy and our entire state. We look forward to working with anyone who will join us in this important endeavor.