Growing the economy and expanding opportunity through education and innovation

GeekWire reports today on a letter sent by dozens of tech, education and business leaders urging support of legislation to expand computer science education in the state. The measure, HB 1813,  has passed House committees on education and appropriations. From the letter:

There are currently 20,000 open computing jobs across all industries in Washington, and these jobs are growing at three times the state average. In 2014, there were only 1,200 computer science graduates at the university level, and among high school AP Computer Science test takers, only 260 were female. Only 48 were black or Hispanic. We compare that to 20,000 open jobs and wonder: why is this course only offered in 7 percent of our high schools?

Besides the jobs, computer science is foundational for all students. Every student learns about photosynthesis and electricity, without pursuing careers as botanists or electricians. For today’s students, it’s equally relevant to know what an algorithm is or how the Internet works.

The effort is also discussed in this op-ed in the Seattle Times by Hadi Partovi.

More evidence of the importance of a solid tech education comes from a recent study for the Washington Technology Industry Association. The report, by Community Attributes, Inc., examines the economic and fiscal impact of our Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. Among the findings (it’s worth reading the whole thing):

For the foreseeable future, the ICT sector will create jobs at a faster rate than the State’s public and private education institutions can produce workers qualified to perform those jobs. As a result, Washington State ranks as the highest importer of ICT talent in the nation. The State’s continued economic success is tied to developing and attracting the talent needed to serve the opportunities created by the ICT sector. State investments in ICT training and company support are needed to keep pace with the opportunities.   

This dovetails nicely with today’s article by Joel Kotkin in the New Geography blog, in which he examines the changing geography of education, income growth and poverty in America. Kotkin points out that the states with the largest concentration of educated residents historically, primarily on the East Coast, are not necessarily seeing the fastest growth. Instead, they are being overtaken by states that have rapidly increased their numbers of educated workers. He looks at the transformation created by advanced education, particularly in the South, and its effect on poverty and economic growth.

Some might think that states with a higher proportion of educated workers would do better at creating new jobs. But since 1991, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in both Massachusetts and New York has grown at 0.4% annual rate, and 0.8% in California. In contrast, Arizona’s annual job growth averaged 2.4% and Texas 2%.

This suggests that having a high percentage of educated people is not enough to grow a jobs-rich economy… It might seem tautological, but expanding economies  attract new educated workers.

Washington has done relatively well, ranking 14th in its increase in population of college grads, according to Kotkin’s data. But, as we’ve pointed out, Washington still imports much of its educated population and ranks just 38th in bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita

With a strong tech sector and a strengthened commitment to computer science education in our public schools, we are poised to do better. And we must.