By Kjell Christophersen and Hank Robison
Steven VanAusdle, president of Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) since 1984, recently announced his plans to retire in 2016. Upon hearing this news, we’d like to reflect on Steve’s impressive legacy, visionary work, and longtime partnership with Emsi.
Under Steve’s leadership, WWCC has reached many milestones, including being named a co-recipient of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2013. Steve is also well known for promoting academic programs that fit the local economy, having spearheaded WWCC’s Center for Enology and Viticulture—a project in which Emsi was also involved. This eye for regional opportunity has positively impacted students, keeping them motivated throughout their education. In fact, more than half of WWCC’s first-time students graduate or transfer within three years.
This video highlights a few of WWCC’s accomplishments that may not have been possible without Steve’s creative leadership:
We first met Steve in Walla Walla in late 2000 after receiving a small grant to explore the economic impact of community colleges. WWCC was one of the grant’s two initial pilot schools. At that time, we were very much in the head-scratching phase, knowing precious little about community colleges and what made them tick.
Steve pointed us in the direction we needed to go: We needed to capture not only the standard economic impact stuff but also needed to measure the extent to which community college education improves both the quantity and quality of the regional workforce. Steve’s lesson immediately resonated with us, linking the community college world to our main professional preoccupation: regional economic development.
It’s difficult to overstate how those initial lessons shaped the eventual character and mission of our company. Steve made sure we understood the nexus between skills taught and regional economic development. Eventually, this nexus became an important centerpiece of what Emsi does.
“If ever Emsi has a friend, it is Steve VanAusdle. We speak for all 125 Emsi employees in wishing Steve all the best in his retirement. ” — Kjell Christophersen and Hank Robison
Steve, of course, understands the paramount need to educate state legislators on the benefits of funding education. As educational achievements increase, social behaviors improve, causing dependence on welfare and unemployment relief to decline, crime to decrease, and health to improve. All these changes translate to avoided public costs—which, as Steve recognized early on, must be included in the calculation of college benefits.
Arguably more important, higher education begets an overall increase in personal and business incomes, translating into an expanded tax base and, thus, increased tax revenues. Ultimately, this led us to formally construct our taxpayer investment analysis. This analysis is unique to the Emsi model and answers the question about whether taxpayer funding of community colleges makes sound fiscal sense.
In these ways and many more, Steve’s contributions to regional economic development have been extraordinary and undoubtedly underestimated by the stakeholders in the Walla Walla region and beyond.
If ever Emsi has a friend, it is Steve VanAusdle. We speak for all 125 Emsi employees in wishing Steve all the best in his retirement. Maybe at some point we’ll retire too.
To read more about Steve’s legacy, check out this Seattle Times article. For more information on how your organization can use Emsi’s labor market data, please contact us. Follow Emsi on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.