Building Prosperity through Education

We recently asked Dr. Christine Johnson, Chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane, to provide her insight on building regional prosperity through education attainment. GSI believes that education grows economies, and there is a growing trend, nationally, around the key role business development and chamber organizations play in driving, supporting and cultivating talent development. It is our goal to increase the proportion of residents in Spokane County with high-quality, high-demand degrees, or certificates, from 40% to 60% by 2025.

By Dr. Christine Johnson, Chancellor, Community Colleges of Spokane

johnson-christineEvery day I am struck by the challenges and opportunities the Spokane economy faces because too many people in our workforce lack postsecondary credentials—certificates, associate or baccalaureate degrees. Only four out of every 10 local workers have completed a certificate or degree of any type. As all professions become more complex, requiring problem-solving, critical thinking, technology savvy and effective communication, the inland Northwest faces a significant skilled workforce shortage that must be immediately addressed.

Serving as GSI chair, I had the opportunity to see what is possible when employers, educators, business and civic leaders join together in community conversations aimed at creating a strong and diversified economy with family-wage jobs and clear pathways to higher education. Community Colleges of Spokane, which employs over 2,000 people, fits into both sides of this equation as an education provider and as an employer.

CCS shares the vision of the GSI Education Attainment Initiative: that a more educated citizenry helps build a strong economy, and a strong economy where businesses thrive and grow means a shared prosperity for individuals and their families. CCS has long supported employee growth—providing time and access to degrees and certificates within CCS and at other local colleges and universities.

CCS is one of nine local employers and three higher education institutions who are pilot project members for this initiative. CCS joined other employers in surveying our employees to determine both their educational needs and the best ways to deliver courses and programs to these working adults. We found some will need online courses, on-site courses or evening courses and CCS, as is our culture, stands ready to respond to meet student and employer needs. Our community colleges, SCC and SFCC, also evaluate real-world experience in the workplace, in the military or other significant learning to determine if that experience can translate into actual college credits, which help people complete degrees more efficiently.

For the 86,000 people across our region who have completed some college but no degree, we recognize that navigating college enrollment and program completion can be challenging. We support the GSI navigator who is charged with working one-on-one to meet those needs. I believe our investment in this will benefit not only the CCS workforce, but the success of all employers.

CCS also reached out to other colleges and universities in the area to invite them to take part in this multi-year effort. Spokane has a wealth of educational options and I believe we can dramatically improve the education attainment in our area from 40% to 60% by 2025.

Nine public and private employers as well as three higher education institutions are leading the way in our GSI Education Attainment Initiative, and I am confident that more will take part in the years ahead. The success of our businesses, the opportunities for good jobs and the well-being of our communities is up to us. I urge you to invest in building the talent of our beautiful Inland Northwest!


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