Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County CEO John Sternlicht will give a year in review Feb. 11 at the Economic Forecast Night.

MOUNT VERNON — Leaders in higher education will talk about a liberal arts education versus career and technical training and their roles in shaping the workforce at a panel debate Feb. 11.

The debate will be held as part of the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County’s 2020 Economic Forecast Night, which starts at 5 p.m. at the Swinomish Casino & Lodge.

The panel will include Tom Keegan, president of Skagit Valley College; Sabah Randhawa, president of Western Washington University; Isiaah Crawford, president of the University of Puget Sound; and Paul Pitre, chancellor for Washington State University’s Everett campus.

EDASC CEO John Sternlicht said workforce is a top issue for businesses in Skagit County.

“One of the big debates is around higher education, and should higher education really almost focus exclusively on career preparation and training, and is a liberal arts education still a valuable thing?” he said.

He said four-year degree programs teach critical and analytical thinking, writing and oral communication and the ability to express a point of view — skills you might otherwise be lacking.

For students who choose a two-year or certificate program, advantages are learning an in-demand skill and graduating with little to no debt, he said.

“Training programs where you get a degree and can make a pretty good living need to be more touted and accepted, particularly if you ultimately decide that you want or need to get a four-year degree, maybe you’re working for a company that will send you,” Sternlicht said.

He said in many cases, it’s not an either/or scenario.

“I think we need to do a better job of informing students, parents and guidance counselors of what all the options are,” he said.

The event will also feature Sternlicht’s annual year-in-review and a look forward by economists Laurie Trautman and Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

Tickets are available at Cost is $125.

For information, call 360-336-6114 or email

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison:, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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