State Rep. Larry Seaquist says Washington's higher-education institutions, facing millions more in budget cuts, now more than ever need to strategically tailor curricula to match industry demands.
Gov. Christine Gregoire, facing a state deficit of $1.4 billion, last week proposed cuts that include $160 million to higher education in the next biennium.
Seaquist, the Gig Harbor Democrat who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, is urging his fellow lawmakers to encourage the state's higher learning institutions to implement more courses that directly address the high-tech needs employers want. As an example, he pointed to Olympic College's partnership with Washington State University to make a mechanical-engineering degree possible in Kitsap County.
"Between the Navy and Boeing, they'll hire every graduate they can produce," he said.
Colleges should cut out classes that fail to meet employers' needs as directly, he said. Clover Park Community College will drop barbering and cosmetology courses.
"Those are good jobs, those are real jobs, but they're not" jobs that "the economy is asking for," Seaquist said.
Seaquist held up OC and Skagit Valley Community College as examples of colleges starting to prepare students for the emerging composites industry.
"They're trying to (feed) those businesses," he said. "We need that higher ed system to be much more innovative."
Seaquist favors targeted classes much more than additional tuition hikes.
Tuition increases already have put higher education out of reach for 40,000 potential community college students, he said. Currently, roughly 270,000 students attend Washington's 34 community and technical colleges.
Several thousand no longer can attend the state's universities.
Seaquist and supporters will try to stabilize tuition and also keep financial aid intact during the special legislative session that starts Monday and the regular session that begins Jan. 9.
Also in his radar screen in the coming months in Olympia is preservation of the state's Guaranteed Education Tuition program, which helps families save for college.
During the past session, a group led by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane voiced concern that the program was financially unsustainable. They tried to change it to have two tracks, what Seaquest called a Cadillac track and a Chevy track.
But Seaquist said that the less costly, two-track system hadn't worked in other states. He and others defeated the proposal.
"Those concerns have not gone away," he said.
A third education priority for Seaquist will be a push to create a new board overseeing all aspects of education from pre-kindergarten though graduate schools. It would include the current Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board and others.
He and state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, will meet with the governor on Wednesday to propose the idea "to try to make sure that our whole education system was working effectively."
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