Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Community College Trustees
February 9, 1998
It's a pleasure to be among people who share a passion for education.
And there's a particularly warm spot in my heart for community colleges, because of your tradition of openness to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
This state's community and technical colleges have truly been the headwaters of hope and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Washington citizens.
And the willingness of people like you to volunteer your time as Trustees has helped our community and technical colleges demonstrate the power of education to be the great equalizer.
So I want to thank you all for your service, and for taking the time to travel to Olympia.
The state Constitution says education of our children is the paramount duty of the state. This was true for the 19th and 20th centuries, but not true for the 21st century. The paramount duty of the state in the 21st century will be not just the education of children, but the creation of a system of lifelong learning for people of all ages.
And community colleges are clearly in the vanguard when it comes to lifelong learning.
So you have something special to contribute in the conversations that are just beginning under the auspices of the 2020 Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
I have asked that Commission to create a clear vision of a system of lifelong learning for the year 2020 and beyond.
I am not asking the Commission to solve the problems of today's higher education system.
I want them to leap over the problems of today, and focus on the needs of our state in the year 2020.
This is an urgent task for several reasons.
First, as you know all too well, the demand for post-secondary education is growing faster than our ability to finance expanding enrollment.
And the growth in demand is driven not just by the baby-boom echo, but by the needs of older learners.
If we continue to try to meet this demand in the same old way, we confront an untenable choice: either expand access to higher education at the expense of every other state government service, including public schools. . .or we restrict access to an ever-higher proportion of our population.
So we just have to find a third way - a way to expand access and lower costs.
Second, the needs of both employers and employees are changing.
After decades of reliance on academic degrees, employers are now asking for clearer, more specific measures of what people know and can do.
That's why our high schools are instituting a Certificate of Mastery that students must earn by mastering our tough new academic standards.
And that's why so many of you are involved in efforts to create new skill standards that spell out what knowledge and skills employers want job applicants to have.
Skill standards are a harbinger of a new way of thinking about how to measure learning.
As technology changes, and job descriptions change, skill standards can change, too.
But this competency-based way of thinking - and the flexibility that comes with it has yet to penetrate our four-year institutions.
Third, new communications technology is on the brink of transforming the way we deliver education.
There has not been a change as dramatic as the one we're experiencing now since the invention of the printing press.
The advent of the printing press broke the monopoly of the church on knowledge and teaching.
Today's technologies may break the monopoly of our educational institutions on teaching and learning.
Already, there are courses for law students on CD-ROM.
So it's urgent that those of us who care about education learn everything we can about what these new technologies promise and how we can deploy them in ways that extend the reach of educational opportunity.
Can we make it possible for people to earn degrees via distance learning or the Internet?
How do we figure out what is best taught and learned with teachers and students in the same room, versus what can be effectively learned at a computer terminal or in a video teleconference?
To what degree can we use these technologies to bring education to people in their homes or at their workplaces, when and where they need it?
Can new technologies actually lower the cost of higher education?
And in fact, will these new learning technologies alter our very definition of education?
These questions give rise to a fourth issue: In the year 2020, what will it mean to be an educated person?
What will all of us need to know in order to be active, effective citizens in a democracy?
We know that in a high-tech, fast-changing world with a growing population, the challenges of self-government will become ever more complicated and daunting.
And we also know that to succeed in the workplace, all of us will need not just "an education," but continuous education.
How can we create a post-secondary education system capable of rising to ever-higher levels of learning and a continuing explosion of human knowledge?
Fifth and finally, how do we finance and support the research and scholarship that is so vital to economic development and the advance of human civilization?
Today, the relationship between research and teaching is unclear - and so is the relationship between the way we finance research and teaching.
Now, together what do these issues add up to?
A major transformation of post-secondary education.
The question is whether that transformation will be one we design -- or one that washes over us while we're busy trying to solve the problems that are right in front of our noses.
And the question is whether the transformation ahead will benefit the people of this state as fully as we can make it.
Community colleges have a great deal to contribute in the search for the answers to these long-range questions.
And community colleges have a great deal to gain from a systematic, far-sighted effort to re-think and re-design our post-secondary system.
In a truly seamless, high-tech, customer-driven system, community and technical colleges will be an even more critical and integral component of higher education.
Because if we look to the next century, we can see that what people will really need is knowledge - not the ephemeral prestige of an academic pedigree.
And it is this focus on finding effective, customer-focused ways to transmit skill and knowledge that is the strength of our community and technical colleges.
So I want to ask each of you to do two things:
First, of course, I want you to keep doing what you are already doing, and that is governing today's community and technical colleges.
And an important part of the challenge of governing for today is protecting our state's general fund from being diverted to pay for transportation.
Your voices need to be heard in the current legislative debate about transportation financing and the danger the Republican plan poses to both K-12 and higher education.
But second, I hope that you will also take the time to become futurists.
I hope you will take time to let go of the problems we confront today, and the system of today, and give your imagination the freedom to take flight.
I'd like to know what you think the ideal system of post-secondary education for the year 2020 and beyond might look like.
Anne Winchester, the former chair of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, is serving on the Commission. Toiya Gist, an older business student at Pierce College in Tacoma, will also be serving on the Commission.
I've asked Earl Hale to serve on the Commission's technical advisory committee so that the perspectives and the strengths of this group will be represented in the Commission's work.
I want to make it clear that when we plan for the year 2020, we're not talking about the Jetsons or flying cars.
As those of us who've reached mid-life know all too well, twenty-two years is not really a very long time.
And that means we need to start thinking harder and faster about where we want our system to be in the year 2020 - quickly, before it's too late.
Thank you very much.