Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges Annual Winter Conference
February 4, 2002
Many thanks for that kind introduction, Ruthann. I’m honored to be here.
All of you gathered in this room are public servants in the purest sense. Dedicating yourself to the stewardship of our community and technical colleges, you are investing in the social and intellectual fabric of our communities.
Three decades ago, when leaders championed a sweeping community college system in Washington state, no one could have envisioned the power and scope of our community colleges.
Today, our state is the beneficiary of an extraordinary network of higher-ed facilities stretching from Walla Walla to Port Angeles and from Edmonds to Colfax.
Our community and technical colleges are a tremendous asset for the state, and a source of opportunity for our citizens as we seek to compete in the Innovation Economy. As the Washington Competitiveness Council said in its final report:
Human capital and innovation are the fundamental source of innovation in the modern economy. As the “content” of our goods and services becomes more and more physical, the success of companies, industries and states increasingly depend on the knowledge of their workforce, their access to new technology and their ability to rapidly innovate.
And the Council went on to say:
Washington has a highly qualified workforce, but to compete successfully, we need greater numbers of educated workers in high demand fields that support strategic clusters.
I fully agree. As we strive to strengthen our competitive assets, there is no higher priority than creating an educated workforce for the 21st century -- so that Washington’s companies readily find the skilled workers they seek and our citizens acquire the skills necessary to find satisfying, well-paid jobs, and also so our citizens can think critically with respect to complex, scientific, ethical issues confronting our society.
We are making progress. Since 1997, the state has increased the number of high-tech graduates and certificates from community and technical colleges by nearly 50 percent.
And a growing number of students are getting their training through online classes. Enrollments in online classes have exploded. This past year, there were nearly 3,500 full-time equivalent students enrolled in online classes, a 50 percent increase over the previous year!
But we need to do more -- to expand enrollment at our community and technical colleges, to target enrollment to high-demand fields such as technology and healthcare, and to insist on critical thinking even in vocational schools.
That’s why, despite our $1.25 billion revenue shortfall, I maintained our strong commitment to education in my supplemental budget proposal. While I had to ask our community and technical colleges to accept a 3 percent reduction in the General Fund appropriation, we maintained our financial commitment for enrollment growth next year. My budget also adds 1,500 new slots and funding for worker retraining. And I am making available $750,000 in federal funds to pay for specialized training for companies that want to locate or expand in Washington but need customized training for their workers.
But I would also like to pose a challenge to you, our community and technical college leaders: to make our workforce training more responsive to changing industry needs. Our economy thrives on innovation. Through the process of “creative destruction” our companies are constantly creating new products and services. They are also finding ways to deliver current products and services more quickly, less expensively and with new and better features. And as recent declines in the Internet sector show, the composition of the Innovation Economy itself can change rapidly and unpredictably.
As a result, we need not just a skilled workforce, but a nimble workforce -- one that can meet highly specific skill standards, which are subject to continual evolution.
To meet this challenge, our educational institutions must find ways to operate more flexibly and responsively than ever before. Industry, community and technical colleges, and the four-year institutions need to come together to identify needed skill sets, develop the curriculum to deliver those skills and provide the articulation that enables students to acquire marketable skills while also building to a four-year degree as their careers take them to more responsible positions.
So I am asking you to take the lead in building key partnerships with business and in providing training that businesses need to compete, so businesses can hire OUR residents -- your neighbors and your family members. Colleges need to be faster and more flexible than ever before.
Bolstering the competitive position of our industries is especially critical today, during this national economic recession. Being able to provide training where and when it is needed, in anticipation of emerging needs and in response to dislocations, elevates our community and technical colleges as an economic stabilizer. Our community and technical colleges will help us pull out of this recession. And they will give our businesses and citizens a competitive edge when our economy rebounds.
Thanks to all of you, Washington citizens -- young and old -- will receive the advanced education and the jobs that they need and want. But you, as trustees, require the right tools to manage for the future. That can be accomplished in two ways: one, by persuading your legislators to give the state board greater tuition-setting authority; and two, by working more closely with the four year colleges and universities to identify a dedicated funding source for higher education. Because only with the necessary resources can we ensure that our educational mission is met.
In conclusion, I want to highlight a fact that so many of you already know -- that our community and technical colleges are the great equalizers. They allow us to cast a very wide net: They allow us to spread a culture of higher learning and, in turn, a culture of prosperity to all of our citizens.
You are making us proud, and we’re counting on you. Thank you again for your service and your dedication.
- Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges