Lawmakers are once again preparing to gather in Olympia for the 2019 legislative session. The hard work of drafting the next biennial budget is imminent. Fortunately, there is one thing on which everyone can agree: people need good, well-paying jobs and most of those jobs require training and education beyond high school. This is particularly true in Lewis County, where the unemployment rate in November, at 5.5 percent, remains among the highest in the state.

Ask most people in Lewis County what keeps them up at night. Chances are, their top worries are about economic security — food, housing, jobs, bills, health care, college and retirement. We know. We hear it from our students every day. It’s why we started a food bank on campus, and why hundreds of students every month use it to put food on the table. It’s why we offer emergency funds for students who need just a few bucks to keep going. It’s why our foundation awarded more than $750,000 in scholarships this year and why it works year-round to keep the pot of funds growing.

But, in order for Centralia College to deliver high-quality college education to the citizens of Lewis County, the Legislature will need to prioritize higher education funding next session. According to the Washington Roundtable, there will be 740,000 job openings by 2021 and more than half will require education past high school. In Lewis County, the pathways to those future careers run right through Centralia College.

To ready those workers, Centralia College and its partner colleges across the state are seeking investments in three key areas for students: guided career pathways, training in high-demand careers, and exceptional instruction.

The guided career pathways approach is a nationally-recognized way to help students graduate on time and with purpose, saving them time and money in the process. Students choose a course of study earlier and get clear road maps so they take the right classes in the right order. Advisors help students identify their path, keep them on it, and help them graduate sooner.

Our students, and the employers who count on them, also need training for jobs in high-demand fields that pay well and elevate our economy. In the South Olympic Region, which includes Lewis and south Thurston counties, those jobs are in the health care, wood products, education, and construction industries (according to a new report by Washington STEM). With ample funding from the state Legislature, we can ensure our students are ready to step into those positions, filling local jobs with local talent.

Of course, none of this can happen without outstanding instruction. We need to attract and keep exceptional teachers. To do this, we need the Legislature to provide competitive compensation. On average, community and technical college faculty are paid 12 percent less than faculty in peer states.

As Legislators set their sights on the next state budget, their focus should be on funding education beyond high school. Community and technical colleges and our four-year university partners create common ground — and a powerful public good — for the people of Washington state.

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