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President's Column

Sunday, October 16

Education takes center stage at employer-hosted summit

Huskies and Cougars are arch-rivals on the football field.

But the new presidents of the University of Washington and Washington State University made it clear recently that they are allies in many respects, including their desire to make college more affordable to middle-class families and the need to boost production of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees.

Speaking in September at the Association of Washington Businesses’ (AWB) annual Policy Summit, UW President Ana Marie Cauce and WSU President Kirk Schulz outlined their vision not only for their universities, but also for the state as a whole.

It was the first time the two presidents spoke together in public since assuming their roles. Cauce came to UW in 1986 and was named president in 2015. Schulz started work this summer as president of WSU.

The good news for Washington employers is that presidents’ goals are aligned with the goals of the business community, which has made access to postsecondary education of all types — including 2- and 4-year colleges and universities — a top priority.

Cauce said she wants to make the school the best university in the world in terms of impact on student lives. That means “having gone to the University of Washington has made a difference,” Cauce said. She also wants the school to rank No. 1 in innovation, which also happens to align with AWB’s vision.

Schulz likewise emphasized the need to make college affordable, saying access and affordability were two key themes of the land-grant tradition.

“Don’t take the opportunity to go to college out of the hands of the middle class,” he said.

For employers, one of the biggest ongoing challenges is finding qualified workers. AWB’s outgoing board Chairman Mike Schwenk, who moderated the discussion with Cauce and Schulz, used the opportunity to invite both presidents to work with business community, which is forming a task force to look at the issue.

Cauce and Schulz both committed to working with the business community on the issue.

On the same day that the university presidents spoke to AWB members, the business group also hosted a debate between the two candidates running for state superintendent of public instruction.

Erin Jones, a former teacher and assistant superintendent of student achievement at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Chris Reykdal, a state legislator and former school teacher, squared off in a debate moderated by Gary Livingston, the retired chancellor of the Community Colleges of Spokane.

Both candidates offered important perspective about how they would lead this important state agency, but AWB’s board was impressed by Jones’ clear vision for the state’s school system and voted to endorse her for the office.

School funding will remain the focus of the state Legislature next year as lawmakers wrestle with the final pieces of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

Jones said she will focus on ensuring that additional school funding really makes a difference, which is a message AWB has been promoting for years.

It’s not enough simply to pour more money into education. We must get different outcomes as a result of the spending. Outcomes such as more Washington students graduating from high school, more Washington students staying in the state for their postsecondary education, and more Washington students leaving school prepared to enter the workforce.

As the university presidents noted, accomplishing all of this will require a commitment to improving the state’s K-12 education system in tandem with the improving the higher education system.

“Strengthening one without the other ultimately isn’t going to get us what we want,” Cauce said.

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