Highline College president stresses value of higher education

Washington state needs to realize the value of higher education.

That was the overall tone Nov. 15 at the Des Moines City Council roundtable designed to begin conversations about the importance of higher education and getting constituents to realize it.

“The Legislature and the public have to realize that education is an investment,” said Mayor Dave Kaplan.

Rising tuition rising, cutting of state funding and the overall instability facing higher education institutions were addressed.

In attendance were Dr. Jack Bermingham, president of Highline Community College (HCC), Dr. Jim Gaudino, president of Central Washington University (CWU) and Dr. John Bassett, president of Heritage University.

“This state has abandoned higher education,” said Dr. Gaudino. “We have lost 50 percent of our state support in four years. We load all that on the backs of our students. We need to say enough, it’s not good public policy.”

Gaudino said that it only takes six to seven years to destroy a university but 30 years to rebuild it.

“People need to be more outspoken in communities about the value added with higher education centers,” said Dr. Bermingham.

Highline College employs over 1,150 people making it the largest employer in Des Moines. It contributes $252 million to King County’s economy annually, with its international students alone bringing in $ 7.7 million.

“It’s a very below-the-radar economic giant,” said Bermingham.

Mayor Kaplan said that the city of Des Moines wants to enhance their relationship with Highline College, CWU, and Heritage so they can strengthen their partnership to maximize the benefits.

Highline College has been collaborating with CWU since 2005 and with Heritage as of 2011. Through these partnerships the campus now offers bachelor’s programs and four master’s programs.

CWU has eight campuses; the Des Moines campus is the largest satellite with over 900 students. Eighty percent of graduates from Highline go on to attend CWU.

“Collaboration is usually an unnatural act performed by unconsenting adults,” said Dr. Bassett. “It works in this situation because all these colleges have a shared value system.”

“I think even with the challenges, we have opportunities,” said Bermingham.

Gaudino said that Central really focuses on community-centric degrees, getting students to study in fields that are needed locally.

There is a large emphasis on placed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math or Medicine.)
Gaudino said that for every unemployed Washingtonian there are two STEM jobs that need to be filled.

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