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Second straight year of record enrollment at state’s two-year colleges


OLYMPIA – The State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) announced record fall enrollments at the state’s 34 community and technical colleges. Fall enrollments are estimated to reach 146,500 full-time equivalent students, an increase of nearly 9.5 percent over last fall’s record enrollment levels. For the year, enrollments are estimated at 162,000 FTES.

Last year, much of the growth was attributed to the troubled economy because, historically, college enrollments increase during economic downturns. That trend continues this academic year.

“We all hoped for a quicker economic recovery, but it’s clear now the effects of the recession are lingering,” said Charlie Earl, SBCTC executive director. “Student demand for college programs just continues to grow as more people recognize their aspirations depend on higher levels of education.”

Enrollment growth is up in every category, including college/university transfer, workforce training, and basic skills (adult literacy).

“People know the pathway to a better job and a better life includes the knowledge and skills they can get by going to college,” said Jim Bricker, SBCTC board chair. “A high school diploma simply isn’t enough anymore. That is why community and technical colleges were created. They are ‘the people’s institutions,’ which is why—even with large budget cuts this year—two-year colleges are working hard in their communities to keep the doors open and be accessible for those who need them the most right now.”

Enrollment in the Worker Retraining Program has increased 77 percent over last fall. The program helps laid-off workers—or those in declining industry jobs—to retrain for new careers. With job placement rates above 80 percent and wage recovery levels ranging between 87 percent and 118 percent, this program is working for those who need it most and is well worth the state’s investment.

“Thousands of people have turned to us for Worker Retraining during the last year, but this unprecedented demand means we are out of money to serve them,” said Jill Wakefield, chancellor of the Seattle Community College District, which includes four Seattle campuses serving more than 14,500 FTES.

“As the economy picks up, the jobs that will grow are not necessarily the same ones we lost. If we want this recovery to really take off, we need to invest in training for the jobs of the future—green technology, global health, nanotechnology, and business technology.”

Of Worker Retraining funds allocated to colleges, a portion goes to the student for tuition assistance and the remainder goes to the college to pay for instruction.

“But even if there were enough for each student, it still doesn’t cover their education,” Wakefield said. “The $1,300 designated for tuition has not increased in over a decade, while tuition has doubled during that time. “Students turn to us for training, hope and confidence,” Wakefield added, “but we can’t patch together enough resources right now to serve them all.”

The community and technical college system is seeking additional support from the Legislature in January to shore up the Worker Retraining Program.

“We know the state is facing an additional deficit, but we truly believe that slashing higher education will only prolong the recession and, ultimately, weaken the state’s recovery,” said Charlie Earl. “The Legislature is in a very difficult position, but we can’t hesitate to seek help for the thousands of laid off workers, the businesses that need training assistance for their workers, or anything else that strengthens Washington’s economy in the short and long term.”

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Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges