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Where the jobs are: State told to increase STEM degrees

A new report says Washington has major opportunities to create jobs by improving university offerings in science, computer sciences and engineering. But will the state act?
The University of Washington-Tacoma's Science Building.

The University of Washington-Tacoma's Science Building. Joe Wolf/Flickr

The devil is in the details. The Washington Roundtable released a report Tuesday on the gap of jobs-versus-education in Washington and how to tackle that gap — in very broad strokes.

The devilish details are what, specifically, can the Washington Legislature do? And how much would those fix-it measures cost?

Right now, more questions exist than answers.

"It's a large problem. It's going to take more than one year to do this," said Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable.

The Washington Roundtable and The Boston Consulting Group said 25,000 skilled job openings in Washington have not been filled for more than three months because of a lack of qualified applicants, mostly in science, technology, engineering and health care. That 25,000 could grow to 50,000 by 2017, their report said. 

"The large companies have the capacity to go out and recruit folks. The small and medium companies do not," Mullin said.  

Among other things, the report recommends that the state add more computer science, engineering and health care students to its universities.

Mullin noted that the state's three largest universities recently turned away 1,200 potential engineering and science students because of a lack of capacity to teach them. Extra money to the state's colleges would allow that student to be admitted and eventually shrink the gap of missing qualified job applicants, Mullin said.

The Washington Roundtable hopes the Legislature would allocate extra money this session, but the business organization has not yet nailed down how much extra money would be needed. "The numbers are substantial. But in overall Olympia terms, the numbers are substantially modest," Mullin said.

For higher education, Senate Republicans are talking about adding $300 million to the state's budget. But questions exist on how that $300 million is calculated. Are the actual apples-to-apples figure really $75 million to $100 million? And is the extra money truly available without raising taxes?

If a "coherent strategy" is mapped out on this issue, the Washington Roundtable might be willing to support seeking new revenue sources to put it into action, Mullin said.

Meanwhile, the Washington Roundtable wants the Legislature to keep differential university tuition as an option. Despite being on the law books, differential tuition has never actually been used by the state's colleges. The concept is that universities would charge higher tuition for the more-expensive-to-teach courses, such as science and engineering. The House passed a bill 95-1 in February to eliminate differential tuition because of perceived unfairness to students. That bill has stayed in the Senate's Higher Education Committee with no action for five weeks.

The Washington Roundtable believes differential tuitions could help pay for more capacity to teach science and engineering.

However, Mullin acknowledged that higher science and engineering tuitions could discourage poorer students from applying to those programs. The Washington Roundtable is hoping that new scholarships — possibly from Boeing and Microsoft —could be made available to those less affluent students.

The organization views Grades K-12 as the source for increased numbers of applicants to university science, computer and engineering programs. Consequently, it is optimistic about various K-12 education bills floating around the Legislature, Mullin said.    

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

"The organization views Grades K-12 as the source for increased numbers of applicants to university science, computer and engineering programs. Consequently, it is optimistic about various K-12 education bills floating around the Legislature, Mullin said."

Great - where is their voice for full funding of K-12 education per McCleary? STEM education costs more money.

Will they be donating to public schools to help this effort because, in the end, it will benefit business to have a better trained and larger STEM workforce?

Most of the K-12 education bills have little to do with STEM.

westello

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

This is the second Crosscut story in as many days featuring Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, calling for 'extra money' to be allocated to STEM programs.

I'm eager to see if a third story will feature Mullen applauding Gov. Inslee's plans to fund education through fiscally responsible revenue enhancements.

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 9:55 a.m. Inappropriate

As the parent of one of those high-achieving STEM kids who just found out that there is no space for them in this state, Mr. Mullin can rest assured that our student will be leaving the state to major in bio-engineering. Funny, our child was admitted to four highly regarded institutions in two other states without a problem, so obviously the problem is Washington. Their loss.

Mr. Mullin can also rest assured that we blame people like him quite specifically, along with Frank Chopp, Chris Gregoire, Jeff Bezos, et al.

I predicted this would happen when the Great Recession happened. The Washington business community, including the Roundtable, are utter hypocrites who continually complain about a lack of qualified workers, but then opposed I-1098. They relentlessly tell the kids to study hard, go to STEM magnet schools, and then pull the rug out from under them here at home. Luckily kids are resilient, and will find careers and lives elsewhere.

The brain drain is happening before our very eyes, and the time period starting in 2009 will be remembered as one of completely failed leadership by the elites of the this state. It's shameful.

Parent13

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 10:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Health care?? I know a newly minted Certified Nursing Assistant who is going back to school because she cannot get a job. And I know a recently board certified Medical Assistant who has just taken a part-time job at Macy's. . .

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Why dont we reduce funding for degress that have less economic value? Cancel 20% to 50% of the classes for liberal arts degrees. We would be doing most of those kids a favor. Many of them graduate with large student debts and very poor job prospects.

Reduce the number of liberal arts professors.
Increase the number of STEM professors.

The problem we have is that the education mafia on talks about increasing everywhere. They never talk about killing economically worthless degrees that are actually harmful to the career prospects of the students.

James11

Posted Thu, Mar 28, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Turning the UW into Montlake Tech is not a good idea. Even though it's true that there are people in college who probably don't need to be there and might be better served by vocational training, the liberal arts and sciences are an essential part of higher education, no matter what your field. If that weren't the case, China wouldn't be pushing the liberal arts; medical schools wouldn't be noting that they welcome and encourage applications from English and philosophy majors; and Carnegie Mellon and MIT, among others, wouldn't have world-class humanities departments.

Do this to the UW and you will accelerate the decline of the state.

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