Investments in Higher Ed Are Investments in a Stronger Future

New and continuing college students did not anticipate the drastic changes to their college careers caused by COVID-19. While continuing to adjust to a largely virtual learning environment and dealing with the mental health impacts of social isolation, they are also facing a bleak job market. Our students, community colleges, and universities need help. When Washington’s Legislature returns to Olympia this winter, they must raise sufficient progressive revenue to respond to multiple aspects of the COVID crisis, including the investments needed to build a more resilient economy and provide students with hope for a brighter future.

With every recession of the past 40 years, higher education has been first on the budget chopping block. Our state has transferred more and more of the cost to students and staff. We have increased tuition, cut classes and student support programs, and reduced staff and faculty pay.

These cuts fall hardest on first-generation, non-traditional, and underrepresented students. These students rely more heavily on advising and relationships to staff and faculty to navigate through college and obtain a degree. Strong, targeted, and thoughtfully designed advising and counselling programs are especially beneficial for students of Color, who often face multiple barriers to success.[1] Cuts in state funding also force advisors, counsellors, and faculty to carry a larger work load with fewer opportunities to engage meaningfully with their students.

Past cuts to higher education have slowed economic recovery from recessions and exacerbated racial inequality. Enrollment at all levels of college education, and most notably at two-year institutions, usually increases during recessions as the recently unemployed and those looking for greater opportunities look to build their skills.[2] A more highly educated and trained workforce gives employers a productivity boost and can attract new businesses.

As we face the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, we have the opportunity to create a clearer and more equitable pathway to college graduation. “The impact of recessionary cuts on higher education” outlines the impact of recessionary measures on our students, staff, and faculty at Washington State’s universities. We have an opportunity to undo such measures. Doing so will build a stronger and more resilient economy, and hope for a better future for individuals, their families, and their communities.

 

Notes

[1] Museus, Samuel D, and Joanna R Ravello. Characteristics of Academic Advising That Contribute to … 2010, works.bepress.com/samuel_museus/12/download/.

[2] Bureau, U.S. Census. “High Unemployment, High College Enrollment.” The United States Census Bureau, 16 July 2019, www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/06/going-back-to-college.html.

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