Rep. Mike Chapman has introduced a bill that he claims will create jobs in rural counties with persistently high unemployment by offering one year of free tuition for students from rural counties pursuing careers in what are considered mid-level jobs.
“This is about revitalizing timber country and farm country,” Rep. Chapman said. “Research tells us one year of education beyond high school is the tipping point for people to get family wage jobs. We also know local businesses need workers with advanced skills. This legislation brings those two things together.”
According to Chapman, roughly a third of all jobs are predicted to be what’s referred to as mid-level, requiring more education than a high school diploma but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree. And by the year 2020, a Georgetown University study found that 70 percent of all jobs in Washington state will require at least some college education.
“A one-year degree or certificate is the best possible investment in our small towns and counties,” Chapman said. “Those mid-level jobs are a ticket to the middle class, the kind of job that lets you buy a house and has benefits like health care and retirement.”
A report by the state’s Workforce Training Board listed examples of mid-level jobs in high-demand fields, including firefighters, auto and diesel mechanics, law enforcement, machine tool technicians, teaching assistants, early childhood educators, accounting and computer science.
House Bill 2177 would offer the free year of tuition for high-demand fields in small counties (population of 80,000 or below) with an unemployment rate greater than 8 percent or a median wage of under $18 an hour, which would include Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.
The funds would be “gift aid,” meaning either state or federal funds that do not have to be repaid. Work study and student loans are not considered gift aid. To qualify, students would need to reside in a qualifying county, and the money would be used for a year’s tuition at a technical school or community college that is also located within a qualifying county.