State Board of Community and Technical Colleges Forum: Lt. Governor Discusses Long-term Higher Education Strategy

Yesterday, the Lt. Governor addressed the presidents and chancellors of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges at their annual summer retreat in a joint forum with Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable Partnership for Learning, and Mike Schwenk, chair of the Association of Washington Businesses (AWB) Institute, to discuss future investments in higher education in Washington state.

Before taking questions, in his opening remarks the Lt. Governor acknowledged the powerful role community college had played in his own life: in high school, it was Bellevue College that provided the math and science classes accessible to blind students. Furthermore, he said, community colleges “have lifted countless Washingtonians into the middle class and beyond,” a role that has become increasingly important since the Great Recession. During that time, from the 2009-2011, community college enrollment had double-digit gains each year.

Following his remarks, the question and answer period opened to the audience, and the Lt. Governor answered questions alongside representatives of AWB and Washington Roundtable on workforce readiness, promoting a college-going culture, and improving public perception of community and technical colleges.

One recurring question involved messaging: How should technical and community colleges create a sense of urgency around the skills-gap story? The data on the economic return on investment for students, the need for high-skilled labor for the workforce, and the social benefits of higher education investments are clear, community college presidents said – but the urgency around supporting community and technical colleges is absent in the public discourse.

On this, the Lt. Governor offered a few pieces of advice: Do not limit the dialogue around community college to workforce-needs data and language, like “skills-gap,” and statistics on economic trends. Instead, he advised, find those inspirational truths that motivate people– like the truth, supported by data, that college is a path towards economic mobility, and life-changing job opportunities. That fundamental economic mobility, the Lt. Governor said, “is the original American dream.”