State colleges struggle to meet demand for postsecondary education, especially tech ed

The Seattle Times reports on the growing demand for computer science education at state colleges and universities.  

Across the state, Washington’s colleges and universities are working to meet students’ insatiable demand, and the market’s insatiable appetite for people trained in computer science. The schools are creating new programs and related majors, ramping up hiring of professors, and constructing new buildings to house it all.

Even as programs expand, demand outstrips available resources. At the UW,

Demand is so great that only about one-third of students who apply to major in computer science and computer engineering are accepted into the program.


“There is a huge unmet demand,” said Chris Bell, Bellevue College’s director of applied baccalaureate development. “If the state doesn’t produce more computer-science grads, it’s going to have economic problems.”

We’ve written often about the skills gap, noting in our foundation report that demand for skilled employees seriously outpaces supply, leading firms to import talent from other states and nations.

Although Washington ranks 13th nationally in private sector job creation,11 25,000 job openings in our state went unfilled for three months or more in 2013 because of a mismatch between the skills needed by employers and the qualifications of prospective employees. These openings were heavily concentrated in high-demand fields such as health care, information technology and engineering.

Absent concerted action to address this skills gap, that number is expected to increase to 50,000 unfilled jobs by 2017. While those unfilled jobs are clearly lost opportunities, they also represent a strong incentive to retool for the future, to increase prosperity by ensuring students have the skills they need to succeed in the economy of today and tomorrow.

That’s why one of our Achieve priorities calls on policymakers to

Expand access to postsecondary education that boosts career opportunity
and supports economic growth.

An op-ed in the Seattle Times by Marty Brown, executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and  Amy Morrison Goings president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, argues that the state’s community and technical colleges have a special role to play in meeting the demand for skilled workers. And, they say, funding hasn’t kept up with demand.

In real dollars, state funding is down to levels not seen since before 2007…The drop in state funding and the resulting tuition hikes amount to lost opportunities for students, our communities and our economy.

To maintain and expand our middle class and our world-class economy, our state needs to support and grow our community and technical colleges.

As if on cue, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports that tech hiring continues to rise in the state. 

Washington state last year added nearly 5,000 new technology jobs, bringing the total number of people employed in a tech industry job to 214,065. That’s an increase of 2.3 percent over the previous year, according to a new analysis by the Computing Technology Industry Association.

In a piece on Seattle’s “growing pains,” Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton writes,

Three kinds of large metropolitan areas have seen spectacular booms since the end of the Great Recession: those strong in finance (Charlotte), energy (Houston) and, especially, technology (San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle).

There are challenges associated with rapid growth, including making sure there are opportunities for Washingtonians to participate in the expanded prosperity. That why we emphasize education. Again, our Achieve priority:

Education expands opportunity. By 2020, 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary education or training. Preparing our students for these opportunities requires high-quality education at every level.

In 2017, education funding will drive the state budget process, as lawmakers work to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. But the education discussions must go beyond a narrow debate about K-12 spending and address the critical demand for postsecondary education.