The North Central region of Washington is a beautiful and vibrant place to live. We supply the world with apples, our hydropower industry enjoys a national reputation for efficient and reliable energy production, we incubate new technology, and we provide high-quality health care for residents across the Pacific Northwest. These growing industries mean hundreds of well-paying jobs open in our region every year, from medical assistants to hydropower engineers to information technology professionals.

For our students to be ready for these jobs, many of them will need to continue their education after high school and complete a credential, such as a degree, apprenticeship, or certificate in a specific industry. In coming years, about two-thirds of the jobs in our region will by filled with workers who have a credential beyond a high school diploma.

However, according to a new report from Washington STEM and the Apple STEM Network, only about 37 percent of North Central region students who graduated high school in 2015 will get such a credential by the time they are 26.

The rate of credential attainment is even worse for students of color — only 24 percent of our Latinx students in the class of 2015 completed education or training after high school.

This is not nearly good enough for our students, or for the future health of our regional economy.

Today, a postsecondary credential is greatest driver of economic mobility and access to family-wage jobs. Studies show that a credential after high school is one of the strongest indicators of lifetime earnings. Students who do not complete such a credential face a lifetime of limited options.

In addition, if our employers cannot find the talent they need locally, they will be forced to import workers or move their business elsewhere.

As a result, one of the strongest investments we can make as a community is to ensure that our students have the supports they need to pursue education and training that will enable them to succeed on the career pathways of their choice.

How do we increase the number of our students who are earning credentials and ready to succeed in careers? As a region — and a state — we must focus on strategies that increase the rate at which students enter programs beyond high school, as well as provide student-centered supports that enable students to complete these programs. These strategies must focus on closing racial, gender and income opportunity gaps.

The College Promise Coalition — of which Wenatchee Valley College is a member — is working collaboratively across sectors and across the state to implement strategies that support students who face barriers to entering and completing postsecondary education.

For example, expanding the pathways into postsecondary opportunities will enable more students to pursue credentials. The coalition is working to expand access and reduce financial barriers to programs that enable students to earn college credit in high school, as well as connect learning to career possibilities.

The coalition also supports critical financial aid programs such as the State Need Grant, College Bound, and others that reduce the financial barriers that many students face.

The unprecedented partnership between education, business, labor, and community-based organizations seeks to open more diverse pathways for Washington students to pursue the unique opportunities in our state.

The Career Connect Washington plan to expand pathways to great jobs by scaling and growing career connected learning for students throughout Washington will help achieve that goal. This ambitious plan will ensure ALL our students are able to access high quality programs that connect them to the in-demand high potential careers right here in our region and state.

During the coming legislative session, the coalition’s members will be working together to advance and fund policies that will support more of our students to get the education and postsecondary training they need to succeed in the many jobs that our local businesses are creating.

Enabling more students to achieve credentials after high school is a win for students and their families, and it’s a win for our businesses that are seeking talented and innovative workers.

 

Dr. Jim Richardson, President, Wenatchee Valley College; Steve Wright, General Manager, Chelan PUD; Dr. Michelle Price, Superintendent, North Central Educational Service District; Dr. Sue Kane, Director, Apple STEM Network, and Dr. Gene Sharratt, Executive Director, OSPI/AESD Network and College Promise Coalition.