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November 10, 2008 3:21 PM
Posted by Kate Riley
The economy is grim and no one knows that more than Washington's re-elected Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is facing at least a projected $3.2 billion deficit in the next biennium and her promise not to raise fees or taxes. Where to cut? Where to cut?
Lots of local pundits note that while K-12 education funding is a constitutional mandate, underscored by a recent court decision, but mention ominously that higher education is not. Read: Cut away.
Not so fast!Lawmakers licking their chops at the higher education budgets ought to temper their appetite with a little pragmatism. The state's community colleges have a variety of important missions in this state -- but this is an important one: Training workers to fill the jobs that are available.
The state Board for Community and Technical Colleges is already reporting a trend they find in every economic downturn. People are enrolling in larger numbers because jobs are harder to find and they need new or different skills to get the jobs that are out there. The board announced last week that the 34 community and technical colleges together have shattered an enrollment record -- the equivalent of 133,000 full-time students.
That's a 6 percent increase from last year's 125,000 enrollment -- the highest enrollment growth since the 1970s.
The other thing that often happens in a state budget crunch is that the Legislature will increase tuition for students and then "claw back" some of the money for other programs. This also would be pennywise and pound foolish. At a time of economic transition, worker retraining should not be less affordable and more expensive.
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