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Commissioners should adopt bold scholarship plan

April 30, 2013

The Washington County Commissioners will never face an easier decision: In exchange for a relatively small expense, the county could finally begin to reverse the biggest local obstacle to growth and employment, that being the long-standing truth that business is reluctant to come here because of a poorly educated workforce.

The commissioners last week heard a plan to offer a college or advanced trade education free to graduating seniors for the bargain-basement price of $2.2 million. Patterned after a program in Garrett County, the plan was pushed by the Greater Hagerstown Committee, a pro-business group that is hardly a promoter of wasteful government programs.

The reaction of the commissioners was to plead poverty. But this bold plan requires our elected leaders to think bigger, or at least acknowledge the old adage that you have to spend money to make money.

What Greater Hagerstown understands is that Washington County ranks near the bottom of Maryland counties when it comes to post-high school education.

What it also knows is how much this matters to businesses when they are picking a new location.

This also matters to taxpayers, who must pay more because our economic base is stagnant. And it certainly matters to plans for a biotech park near Hagerstown Community College. To succeed at attracting biotech companies, the county will obviously need to do a far better job of convincing its young people to go to college.

We encourage the commissioners to nurture this proposal. If they can’t carve out money late in the budget process for fiscal 2013-2014, then it should be a priority for the following year.

Failure to support the scholarship program would show a stunning lack of understanding of both the business world and the state of our local workforce.

Decisions don’t get any easier.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial appearing here was an unedited first draft that was mistakenly posted.

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