The Community and Technical College System
Washington's community and technical college system is a large, diverse network of 34 colleges located throughout the state that collectively serve about 278,000 students each year. The State Board oversees policy development, secures and allocates state, federal and private grant funding, approves educational programs and sets strategic direction for the entire college system.
Washington’s community and technical college system was established by the Legislature in 1967 to “offer an open door to every citizen, regardless of his or her academic background or experience, at a cost normally within his or her economic means.”
Our colleges have three primary missions:
- To provide workforce training through professional, technical and apprenticeship programs;
- To provide the first two years of instruction for those who transfer to baccalaureate institutions; and
- To provide pre-college coursework and literacy instruction for adults, including English language classes.
Washington’s community and technical colleges are nimble, responsive and innovative institutions that nurture hope and opportunity for students of all ages and backgrounds.
Our colleges provide an open door to all prospective students by keeping tuition affordable, and by offering programs and services that meet the needs of people at every level of skill and literacy.
We also play a critical role in building the skills of Washington’s workforce and strengthening Washington’s economy. Our 34 colleges provide employers with skilled and confident workers, managers and leaders. Our colleges offer 1,100 workforce degrees, 2, 290 certificates and 131 applied bachelor’s degrees.
Our 34 colleges serve students for whom a college credential makes the most difference in the trajectories of their lives.
- 51 percent are parents.
- 49 percent are students of color.
- 24 percent receive need-based financial aid in eligible programs.
- 51 percent enroll part time.
The median age of college system students is 26.
Our 34 colleges served 278,435 people in the 2020-21 academic year, including full-time and part-time students.
Our strategic plan is designed to improve completion rates across-the-board for all students, and to improve completion rates faster for students of color. We view this as both a moral and practical imperative. People who earn a college credential earn higher incomes, participate more fully in their communities, and contribute to a thriving economy. Our plan centers on the following vision statement:
Leading with racial equity, our colleges maximize student potential and transform lives within a culture of belonging that advances racial, social, and economic justice in service to our diverse communities.
To advance our vision, the strategic plan revolves around three goals:
- Achieve educational equity for students historically underrepresented in higher education.
- Improve completion rates for all students across all types of programs.
- Increase enrollment and retention among populations who can benefit the most from college access.
Our Governance Structure
Washington’s community and technical college system is often self-described as a “federation of colleges” under the governance of the State Board.
Washington's community and technical college system has centralized funding and decentralized governance.
- Centralized funding: Our 34 colleges submit a single operating and capital budget request to the Legislature. State funds for the college system are appropriated to the State Board, which then allocates funds to college districts. As a result, our State Board, colleges and stakeholders work together to successfully advocate for resources for our college system.
- Decentralized governance at the college district level: College presidents are appointed by local, Governor-appointed boards of trustees. Working with their presidents, local boards set budgets, determine programs and services, negotiate union contracts, hire faculty, and award tenure. This decentralized approach ensures colleges remain locally relevant and responsive.
The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is led by a nine-member Board of Directors appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate. According to statute, the Governor must provide geographic balance and give consideration to representing labor, business, women and ethnic minorities when making the appointments. At least one member must represent business and one must represent labor. Board members serve four-year terms.
Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges are organized into 30 college districts, each served by a five-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The trustees are comprised of local, business, labor and/or community leaders.
The mix of programs and services in each college district is determined by the demographic and economic needs of the local community. Colleges forge partnerships with local and regional business and labor leaders and employees to offer job-relevant programs.
The State Board submits a single operating budget request and capital budget request to the Legislature on behalf of all 34 colleges. When the Legislature approves its operating and capital budgets, the state funds are appropriated to the State Board, which then allocates funds to the 30 college districts.
The system has an annual operating budget of nearly $1 billion and a 2021-23 biennial capital budget of $776 million.
On average, state funds account for about 69% of revenue for colleges. The remaining 31% comes from tuition, grants, contracts, fees, and enterprises such as bookstores, parking service and food service.
Colleges employ more than 21,000 faculty, classified staff and administrators. Faculty unions bargain locally at the college district level. Classified staff unions bargain through the Governor’s budget office — the Office of Financial Management — at all but two college districts (Yakima and Highline). At those two districts, classified staff unions bargain locally at the college level.
The State Board employs an executive director who is responsible for approximately 240 staff.
The executive director position is established by state statute to support the Board and provide leadership and general direction of Washington’s community and technical college system.
The State Board has a tradition of substantive and innovative work and a highly motivated and skilled staff who strive to meet the evolving needs of Washington state and the colleges.
The State Board office is comprised of four divisions: executive office, information technology, educational services, and business operations. Employees work both on-site and remotely, depending on their roles and responsibilities.
Our agency mission: We challenge, empower and embolden ourselves and our colleges to deliver equitable higher education through antiracist policies that ensure economic vitality across Washington.