UW, WSU presidents say cooperation, investment help Washington thrive
CLE ELUM – Great universities are critical to the overall health of a state’s economy and building a strong foundation for Washington’s future, from training a future workforce to creating a generation of lifelong learners that can pivot to new careers.
That was one of the messages university presidents delivered Tuesday to a sold-out crowd at AWB’s 2018 Policy Summit.
Presidents Ana Mari Cauce of the University of Washington and Kirk Schulz of Washington State University also told Washington employers they are working to together to address the state’s big challenges rather than competing for resources.
Their panel was part of a daylong discussion focused on addressing Washington’s workforce and education challenges.
Schulz, of WSU, said the state is lucky to have the University of Washington, which is ranked No. 4 or 5 nationally as a research institution. He’s leading an effort to get WSU in the top 25 research universities.
“One of the things that you find in other states that are doing quite well is they have multiple exceptional research universities,” Schulz said.
He also noted that as many as 1 million people could move to Washington in the next decade.
“If we’re going to meet the needs of the state in terms of workforce, research, global competitiveness, growing population and ensuring access to four-year degree programs and graduate programs...We need both schools on their A game,” he said.
Cauce said the university wants to grow to continue to serve the citizens of the state, which includes research.
“We’re trying to create the conditions so that those discoveries become practicalities and make a difference in people’s lives as soon as possible,” she said.
Cauce also noted that Washington public universities are a bargain compared to other states, without sacrificing quality. Washington ranks No. 6 in the country in terms of a system that’s the most affordable, she said. And other states invest more per student than Washington, she noted.
“Quite frankly we have been doing everything we can to keep costs down while increasing high-cost degrees” in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, she said.
“We can’t keep this up without state investment, and it is as simple as that,” Cauce said. Her concerns also include attracting and retaining faculty.
Tomorrow’s Skilled Workforce
Attendees also heard from state education leaders on the future of the state’s workforce.State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said he’s focused on how to better invest state dollars in the last two years of the state’s K-12 education system, so that juniors and seniors who do not pursuer higher education or even graduate have more pathways into the workforce. The big picture for any high school class looks like this, he said: About 30 percent go to university; about 30 percent go to community college or technical school; about 20 percent graduate but don’t seek additional education; and 20 percent don’t graduate at all. Reykdal said kids need more ways to get involved in the workforce, and on job sites, early.
Moderator Roy Heynderickx, president of Saint Martin’s University, asked panelists how the business community could help.
Reykdal asked employers to “keep pushing your local school districts on CTE (career and technical education) programs.”
Jan Yoshiwara of the State Board for Technical and Community Colleges said the business community could provide feedback about how colleges can be improved, and let lawmakers know what’s going on in the workforce.
“We need you to tell the story about what the gaps are in the skills of the workforce,” Yoshiwara said.
And Mike Meotti of the Washington Student Achievement Council encouraged employers to develop deeper relationships with educational institutions, where both sides make an effort to really understand each other.
“I would encourage everybody…to strive for that model of engagement and connection because I’ve seen it pay dividends over and over again,” he said.
Early Childhood Education
Tuesday’s crowd also heard from Sara Rittling of the First Five Years Fund, which is a nonpartisan early childhood learning advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Rittling said federal investment in early learning has increased 60 percent over the past 10 years, and states are leading the way on new programs and policies.
Early childhood education has bipartisan support in the nation’s capital, and the First Five Years Fund will work to maintain that no matter what happens in the upcoming midterm elections, she noted.
Rittling encouraged employers to engage on early learning issues.
“If I had any plea to all of you today, is that you really start talking as much as you possibly can about the value of early childhood education,” Rittling said.
AWB’s Policy Summit continues Wednesday with a full day’s lineup that includes speakers that will address tax and economic updates, cybersecurity, policies and more. Stay tuned to Olympia Business Watch or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more.