Despite the clear need and allure of high-paying careers in technology, Washington’s colleges and universities are awarding computer-related degrees at less than half the rate the state’s tech companies are adding new positions — let alone filling openings for existing jobs.
The problem isn’t that students are uninterested in often-lucrative tech careers, as is evidenced by the thousands of applicants to the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. The bottleneck appears to be a dearth of accessible training programs.
The universities, state lawmakers and tech-sector employers should work together to fill the gap.
More than 7,500 incoming UW freshmen have applied for direct admission to the Allen School this fall, the online tech-news website GeekWire reported last week. But because of enrollment limitations, only around 7% are likely to be accepted to the program, which can only accept 550 new undergraduates and a few additional UW students each year.
This chasm between supply and demand isn’t limited to the UW. Across all Washington colleges and universities, only 2,758 bachelors in computer science and related fields were awarded in 2020, according the most recent Washington Student Achievement Council analysis of U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics data. Those graduation numbers have been steadily climbing for a decade but still fall far short of the estimated more than 6,100 new jobs being added to the industry in Washington each year.
With more than 14,000 companies operating in Washington, information and communications technology is one of the state’s most vibrant economic sectors. Nearly one in 10 workers in Washington are in the tech industry, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association. A few states, like California, Texas and New York, employ greater numbers of tech workers, but Washington has the country’s greatest proportion of tech workers relative to the overall workforce, according to the national advocacy group.
Until Washington’s schools dramatically increase enrollment capacity in computer-related disciplines, employers will have to continue recruiting most of those workers from out of state, while Washington’s students look for other jobs or elsewhere for their training.
There have been a few recent efforts to bridge the disconnect, including legislation allowing the state’s community and technical colleges to offer four-year computer science degrees and a new focus on teaching computer science in public K-12 schools.
Lawmakers and private employers should work together to make sure these promising initiatives take root and have the necessary funding so that every Washington student interested and able to pursue careers in the state’s booming tech sector has a chance.