Boosting engineering programs invests in state's economy
The University of Washington and Washington State University are making painful, but necessary sacrifices to grow their engineering programs.
Seattle Times Editorial
RAMPED-UP production at Boeing and the pending retirement of half of its engineers in the next five years offer two big reasons to cheer expansion of engineering programs at the University of Washington and Washington State University.
This state does not award enough engineering and technology degrees to meet demand, forcing companies to recruit workers from out of state. The leaky pipeline is a well-known problem but it wasn't until the most recent session of the state Legislature that lawmakers and higher-education leaders got serious about addressing it.
Both schools are putting $3.8 million toward increasing enrollment by 29 percent — resulting in 380 additional engineering degrees each year. Currently, 800 engineering students graduate from the UW each year, while WSU graduates about 520.
Both schools made cuts in other departments to find the money. That may not seem fair to, say, art majors, but strategic investment in engineering is needed to capitalize on an important and underused talent pipeline. In addition to Boeing, companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and a plethora of biotech companies underscore the importance of technology and engineering to our regional economy.
Without growth in in-demand programs, the UW and WSU would be forced to continue turning away qualified students because there aren't enough slots. About half of the students who successfully complete the prerequisites for an engineering major at the UW can't get into the engineering program.
Both schools will target some of the money toward computer-science and computer-engineering degrees, another area where qualified students are turned away.
More than 400,000 people now work in this state's tech industry. Salaries average $95,000 — about double the pay of other industries, according to a new study by the Technology Alliance.
Kids who grow up here in Washington state ought to have a shot at these jobs. WSU's and the UW's efforts put attention, and the beginnings of a solution, on the leaky pipeline.