Centralia College is focused on meeting the demand for a skilled workforce and boosting the amount of post-secondary credentials its students earn.
College President Bob Mohrbacher spoke at the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday afternoon.
According to Mohrbacher, statewide numbers show Lewis County is in the bottom three in the state for the number of bachelor’s degrees its residents earn.
Community and technical colleges project that 77 percent of all job openings in the state will require some sort of postsecondary credential by 2023. That means there’s a large gap for the college to fill.
According to the Washington Roundtable Initiative, the goal for degree attainment in the state is to have 70 percent of students earn some kind of postsecondary credential.
“Right now in 2016, we are at 31 percent so we have a long way to go,” Mohrbacher said.
Of the 77 percent of job openings that will require postsecondary credentials, about one-third of those are at the mid-level of education, or the community college level, Mohrbacher said.
“That’s the area that’s growing the fastest,” he said.
A gap of over 10,000 more degrees in the mid-level section will need to be fulfilled by community and technical colleges statewide.
In order for Centralia College to do its share, Mohrbacher said, between 150 and 200 additional students would need to graduate a year. Currently, a vast majority of the college’s students come from the Centralia-Chehalis area, so in order to make that increase a possibility, the college would need to draw more students from outside the area, Mohrbacher said.
“That’s a pretty big number,” he said.
Statewide, Mohrbacher said employers report difficulty finding the right employees at the mid-level of education for a variety of reasons.
Part of the way Centralia College is looking to increase the amount of students with postsecondary credentials is by offering a variety of bachelor’s degrees. Right now the college has four bachelor of applied science degrees.
“Forty percent of bachelor’s degrees come through community colleges in the state,” Mohrbacher said. “Without that pipeline, we would be greatly challenged by having enough college graduates.”
Enrollment numbers for the college have recently increased, although numbers are still below the state enrollment target. Mohrbacher said the college has the largest enrollment it has in about four years for the fall cohort, and that will likely remain for the winter semester.
The college currently has about 600 full and part-time employees.
The college’s priorities, according to Mohrbacher, are to increase student success, serve the entire county better, and develop new programs and services. Future plans may include a technical degree in agriculture, and CDL training.
“We are definitely interested in more ideas for future programming,” Mohrbacher said.
Commissioner Edna Fund commended the college for the work it has been doing through its partnerships.
“Talking about what needs are in the county in the future, talking about curriculum, I thought that was a really wonderful step,” she said.