Report: Washington college students increasingly majoring in STEM disciplines.

Seattle Times staff reporter Katherine Long reports on a sharp increase in STEM majors among Washington college students.

For years now, experts have hammered this message home to students:If you want your pricey college degree to pay off, you should major in a STEM field — science, technology, engineering or math.

A fresh release of higher-education data for Washington state shows just how well students have listened.

The information from Washington’s Education Research & Data Center released this monthshows that the number of students majoring in STEM disciplines has been growing at a ferocious pace since the end of the recession. (The trend is true nationally, too.)

The Seattle area ranks near the top for STEM employment among major metro areas, so pursuing the degree that maximizes employment opportunities just makes sense. As we’ve written previously, there’s clear evidence that the tech sector – STEM jobs – led the economic recovery since end of the great recession. Yet it took some time to see an enrollment boom.

Last year, we reported that increasing STEM enrollments was a high priority on the national legislative agenda.

We’ve written much about the importance of STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), particularly as a pathway to enhanced career opportunities. A skilled STEM workforce is also critical for expanding economic opportunity. Washington has routinely ranked high among the states for its innovation economy. Nationally, legislatures are making STEM education a priority, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The United States Department of Education’s STEM 2026 report, estimates that major American companies will need to add nearly 1.6 million STEM-skilled employees over the next five years.

Growing state economies is always a big focus for legislators and many are looking towards improving the STEM workforce as a way to address job growth in their states.

The competition to provide the best possible education for students across the county is a good thing, a competition in which the winners will be the students themselves.

The Seattle Times report marks significant progress. Long writes,

In 2016-17 — the latest year for which data are available — the number of students majoring incomputer science more than tripled. Related fields also saw boom times — the new discipline of informatics went from four graduates in 2012-13 to 190 graduates in 2016-17. (The University of Washington, which offers an informaticsprogram, defines it as “the study, design, and development of information technology for the good of people, organizations, and society.”)

Statewide, 370 students majored in biochemistry, a 75 percent increase from 2007-08. Chemical engineering was up by 77 percent, electrical engineering up 101 percent and mechanical engineering — one of the most popular of the engineering disciplines, with 502 graduates in 2016-17 — was up 132 percent.

Good news.