Community colleges essential to any new model for higher education

A key ingredient to our state’s economic transition is a better prepared workforce.

If West Virginia ever hopes to attract businesses, it must be able to deliver a plate full of workers with the necessary education and skills.

That’s why we’re surprised that not a single community college representative was named to a new Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.

We’re not quite sure we agree with one state senator’s recent remark that this commission will be “a colossal waste of time” if community colleges are ignored. However, this snub does ignore the reality that many jobs include the kind of post-secondary education these schools provide.

Not to mention that community colleges not only serve as feeder systems for four-year schools, but are the backbone for much vocational training.

That kind of training is integral to our state’s economic development and must keep pace with the technology that’s changing everything.

Our high schools have made great strides to keep up with training in a host of trade programs but job seekers often face the need for life-long learning. That’s where community colleges play another vital role in training people for the latest developments.

We cannot improve the range of opportunities in our state without quality jobs. And we cannot attract quality jobs without a quality workforce.

That means our state needs to look at a all of the above options formula to provide that quality workforce, including community colleges.

Simply revitalizing our four-year higher education institutions is not going to revive our state’s economy. There are 22 community colleges located throughout West Virginia (14 public and eight private) serving nearly 30,000 students. That is an enormous component of our state’s post-secondary students as well its workforce.

Many may still do not look at higher education in terms of workforce development. Yet in its essence it is increasingly that. This review of higher education’s efficiency must include the schools that help make for a complete education system.

Any new model for 21st century education in our state must account for community colleges as well as vocational training.

Why not look at public-private partnerships for community colleges or even allowing counties to share high school technical education programs?

We urge the governor to name a representative of community colleges to his commission.

Clearly, no one recipe for revamping higher education is going to please everyone.

However, leaving community colleges out of this stew fails to serve our state well.

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