Published Mar. 31, 2013
By Rich Cummins, CBC President – Tri-City Herald Progress 2013
Our state faces two higher education problems. One, our attainment levels fall far below the 67 percent many studies have predicted we’ll need by 2018. Two, as taxpayer subsidies for post-secondary education decline every year and tuition rise correspondingly, families and students need to be very careful to select the right institution and pathway for their individual needs.
Since the 1980s, as the U.S. moved from a manufacturing economy to a services and information base, the wealth of nations has been increasingly correlated to the education levels of its citizens. The world’s wealthiest nations are the most educated.
There’s a stark contrast in economic opportunity between people with and without college credentials. Jobs for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or more were actually added to the economy during the Great Recession, and all jobs lost in the “middle skills” category—workers who had more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree—were recovered. For those with a high school diploma or less, though, we still are losing jobs.
Overall, there was no recession for Americans with postsecondary education and no recovery for those with a high school diploma or less.
I’m not arguing that everyone should go to college, but the data do strongly suggest that the big number odds are on people who do something educational after high school. This could be a one-year certificate or a two-, or three- or four-year degree from CBC, or a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. from WSU Tri-Cities. Or it might be certificate or degree from our many competitors who offer quality programs in increasingly sophisticated e-learning environments by such pioneers as Western Governors University.
This leads me to my second point about higher education’s business model. Many people think of higher education as the pursuit of 18- to 22-year-olds living on a residential campus, but actual data show that these students account for less than 20 percent of all post-secondary education in the U.S. There are more options for families to consider than ever before in the history of education.
When researching post-secondary education and training, the famous advice that Harvard professor Theodore Levitt gave to his students is apt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hold.” Do some research to find out what different institutions offer, then hire the one that drills the hole you need.
Some parents will want their child to have a traditional undergraduate experience that includes the kind of social development found on residential campuses, but there is no need to use that model to limit your thinking about what’s possible. Maybe two years of living at home, or as a Running Start student, followed by two years away is your ticket. Or maybe you are older with a family and just want professional or technical work skills in a shorter time frame. At CBC, for example, we train for many professions that pay excellent wages in many areas of trades and business. We work with apprenticeship programs. We are supported by local businesses who provide scholarship dollars and internships in many of our 34 career and technical programs. Our partnership with Heritage allows us to offer several bachelor and master’s degree programs on our Pasco campus.
I’m sometimes criticized for arguing for expanded STEM education or, by arguing that education should lead to a career, I’m concerned only with training workers for corporate America. These objections miss the mark because they are based on the strange notion that scientists don’t read or write or appreciate art and culture, that English majors aren’t interested in making a living, or that welders don’t use considerable critical thinking in their craft.
The bottom line is that the modern world requires increasingly higher levels of education and a commitment to lifelong learning, and access to public high education remains one of America’s key ways of creating social mobility and economic development that raises the quality of life for everyone.
Published with permission of the Tri-City Herald. Additional news stories can be accessed online at the Tri-City Herald.
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