Continuing Education Can Unlock Family-Wage Careers

Although Washington State has one of the fastest growing job markets in the nation, nearly every job available in career streams remains out of reach for many of our high school graduates. Opportunities in our state for earning a family-paying career are plentiful. They go beyond information technology, including automotive services, manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and more. Unfortunately, there are obstacles for most graduates who choose not to go to college.

Most of these pathway jobs require education or training beyond a high school diploma. Our challenge is this: We’ve been stuck at the same percentage of high school graduates not going on to high school — a troubling 40% — for two decades. The situation is no better for older Washington residents in their 20s, 30s and beyond.

Ironically, continuing education is abundantly available. We have the community technical colleges, universities, and four-year colleges needed to meet those post-secondary career requirements. They range from a traditional four-year degree to certificate programs that can be completed in less than a year. Jobs are available. Many of the necessary support resources are in place. Yet 40% still do not go beyond high school. To improve, local communities must come together to remove the obstacles that stand in their way.

Students are influenced by their communities. Local organizations, including schools, employers, and nonprofits already serving young people and their families, are closer to students and have a better understanding of the obstacles that may stand in their way. We can and must do more to help these organizations. This will require taking risks on new ideas, forming new partnerships within our communities and engaging our community leaders. We need to be innovative, analyze results, continuously learn and quickly adapt innovation that works. The gain is real. Good jobs support futures and families. This is not a low probability situation. We can demonstrate that there are higher enrollment rates in communities that promote the value, accessibility and affordability of continuing education and training.

Governor Jay Inslee has proposed creating a Washington Career and College Pathways Innovation program to support community partnerships to address this challenge. The fund will support regional partnerships that bring key stakeholders to the table, including students, parents, employers, and nonprofit community organizations. The partnerships will work to close gaps in educational opportunities for low-income students, students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, and foster and homeless youth.

Seattle Promise, the Chehalis Initiative, and the emerging King County Promise are three examples of such partnerships showing the potential to help more students succeed in these pathways. These programs also demonstrate the need to continually learn and adapt to better serve students. Built on a strong promise of college affordability, these community initiatives have added investments in targeted outreach, math support and summer academies. The state should help expand its work and involve other communities in these efforts.

Specifically, Seattle Promise is a partnership between the city, public schools, and community colleges in Seattle that started with a few high schools and expanded citywide in 2018. The University of Washington just joined the partnership to offer pathways to a 4-year degree. The Chehalis Student Achievement Initiative began nearly 10 years ago with philanthropic support for a partnership between the Chehalis School District and Centralia College. Their work improves student outcomes in high school and dramatically increases the number of students continuing their education after graduation. Finally, King County Promise is now launching its initiative, which is led by Puget Sound College and Career Network with more than 300 participants.

This is a life-changing opportunity for thousands of our young adults who choose to seek good employment after graduating from high school. By inspiring and supporting more of our high school graduates to benefit from lifelong learning, we will improve their prospects for a productive adult life. The whole community will benefit.

Every year that we delay, thousands of our high school graduates will fail to qualify for the family-wage jobs so abundantly available in Washington. It is a loss we cannot afford.

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