As is so often the case, the holiday season marked a time of transition – from warm weather to cold, old to new, from the year gone by to the one yet to come. This year, however, something seems different. This year, a wind blows that portends changes more profound than perhaps any in recent memory.
In my estimation, we stand at a point in time when the threads of history have gathered together to pass through the eye of a single needle. The decisions we collectively make in the months and years ahead will have broad-reaching ramifications for us all. Consider the many momentous events that confront us – on the one hand, we have inaugurated our nation's first African American president, in defiance of centuries of institutionalized bigotry and injustice. On the other, he is inheriting the most formidable set of economic challenges since the Great Depression.
On the one hand, our nation has never been more honest with itself about the need to reconfigure our society around a sustainable ideology. On the other, we are still embroiled in two wars born of the very lifestyle we need to leave behind. On the one hand, the youth of America are as socially, politically, and environmentally engaged as they have ever been. On the other, they face a future where the prospect of affordable higher education and its corresponding security are in grave doubt.
The questions before us as a nation and as individual citizens in these exciting and daunting times are many and complex. How do we revive our flagging economy while maintaining the social safety net and keeping environmental concerns a top priority? In the short term, how do we help people make it through the lean times when jobs are being lost and the focus of our regional economy is changing? In the long term, how do we position ourselves and our community to prosper from the predicted boom in green technologies and sustainable practices?
Fortunately, at a national level, the new administration has indicated that intends to enact big solutions to our big problems. President Obama has spoken of a new New Deal, with massive public investment in both rebuilding decaying existing infrastructure and building a new "green" infrastructure for the future. This carries the twin advantages of putting people back to work (and putting money in their pockets) and focusing national investment on the sweeping changes we need to make in order to shift our economy to a more sustainable footing.
At the local level, this makes education more important than ever. In the short term, people who have lost their jobs need low-cost educational and training options to enable them to transition into new careers. Over the longer term, the workforce needs the resources to prepare for the new jobs that will inevitably accompany the President-elect's infrastructure and sustainable technology investments.
Where can we turn, today, to take these steps? Fortunately, the answer is with us already – your local community college campus. Thousands of people in the Portland area are already turning to community colleges as a remedy to the economic downturn, and many thousands more will do the same as more and more "green" jobs become available. But community colleges can only provide these services if they remain fiscally strong. Paradoxically, budgetary constraints at the state level are endangering the community college system at the very time that we need it the most.
So please – support your local community colleges by enrolling and taking courses. And perhaps more importantly, support them by calling and writing your representatives in Salem and letting them know, that community college funding is essential for a healthy and prosperous Oregon, both now and in the future.
Algie C. Gatewood, Ed.D., is president of Portland Community College's Cascade Campus.