It is one of the terrible ironies of the current slash-and-burn motif of state budgets around the U.S. that community colleges have to lay off personnel and cut programs at a time of historically high demand for their services.

In our area, students rely both upon Grays Harbor College in Ilwaco and Raymond, and on Clatsop Commuity College in Astoria.

Grays Harbor College’s Pacific County branches do incredible work that goes largely unnoticed. For example, dozens of people will be awarded GED (General Educational Development) diplomas in Ilwaco this year.

As the Washington Legislature begins wrapping up its work on the budget for the coming two-year period, it’s vital that voters let lawmakers know how much we need and appreciate our colleges.

Meanwhile, across the river, funding problems are hitting home at Clatsop Community College, where 13 jobs will be cut from next year’s budget to make up for an expected $1 million shortfall. 

CCC is managing to avoid axing any programs for now. College President Larry Galizio and other managers have made it a top priority to preserve the school’s academic strength. 

But Clatsop will have a more difficult job keeping up with a whole variety of support activities. There will be fewer people to perform and plan functions ranging from helping students succeed to keeping the facilities in tip-top shape.

Cuts to college funding are happening in the context of continuing high unemployment in our county and the surrounding region. Lack of job opportunities is sending many people back to the classroom to sharpen their skills or change career directions. Some young people who might opt for joining the workforce in a better economy are instead staying in school longer.

Even in good economic times, community colleges are one of society’s best investments. They provide a path to higher education for many who might otherwise find it difficult to build on a high school diploma. In a world that requires computer, math and language competency, an associate’s degree can play a large role in personal success. 

From a societal standpoint, the tax money we spend on community colleges repays itself in the form of lifetimes of higher income potential. Every person is worthwhile and we can’t afford to waste any aspect of their lives.

Washington and Oregon legislators — and state taxpayers — should try harder to find ways to fully support community colleges and our state university systems.

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