Is a Polytechnic University in Washington’s Future?
One of biggest obstacles facing employers and businesses in Washington is finding skilled and educated employees. This is especially true among tech-based industries or any business that is adopting information technology. The supply of top notch software engineers and programmers and other engineering disciplines simply does not match the current demand. The problem is getting worse, even as unemployment remains stubbornly high.
Yet the economic trends have been telling us for some time that most of the new jobs being created require different sets of skills and education than the jobs that have been lost since 2008. In addition, at least two thirds of the new jobs being created require at least a bachelor’s degree. Most of these jobs require technical or business skills or both. Computer science is the most needed.
While Washington universities do an excellent job of producing high quality computer science and engineering graduates (UW is among the top ten CS departments in the nation), the number of graduates is simply inadequate. The higher education budgets have been severely cut the last few years in response to declining state revenues. The universities have used increased tuition setting authority, enrolling more out of state students (who pay much more than in state students) and cutting programs to make up for the loss of state revenue.
All this has occurred as the demand for higher education has grown. The upshot has been that more “expensive” degrees, such as computer science and engineering, have not been able to expand their capacity to graduate more students. This must change if Washington’s high tech employers are to remain competitive with other strong tech regions like Silicon Valley/Bay Area, Boston, New York, Texas and others.
One interesting idea is that of a “polytechnic” university, similar to CalTech, Georgia Tech or MIT. A woman by the name of Susanna Williams has sketched out this concept, called “Washington Technlogy University”. Here is an excerpt from her executive summary,
“Washington state leads the nation in projected STEM job growth over the next ten years, yet our current higher education system is challenged to produce enough qualified graduates in these areas. It is time for Washington to make a statewide commitment to educating students for the innovation economy. Washington Technology University is a proposed public baccalaureate degree granting polytechnical university that will work in conjunction with business, labor, and industry to close the skills gap with people educated to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. WTU will create a definitive STEM pathway from high school to jobs in the computer science, engineering and healthcare technology sectors. By offering degrees in conjunction with the existing community & technical college system, WTU will provide a crucial link to meet critical skills demands and make Washington state a national leader in higher education.
Washington Technology University will employ a hands-on, contextual approach to education. Students will learn not just the what but the how and the why of their field. By partnering closely with the businesses and industries that will eventually employ the graduates of WTU, the education will always be relevant to the jobs students will seek after graduation.
FOCUSED, AGILE, COMPETENCY BASED CURRICULUM
WTU is a polytechnical university, concentrated on STEM career pathways in computer science, engineering, and healthcare technology. It will be responsive to employment needs in our state, region, and country. Students will be evaluated not on how much time they sit in a seat, but on how well they can complete the tasks and grasp the concepts. Employers are looking for people who can do the job and that’s what WTU will train its graduates to achieve.
Budgets are already stretched and higher education is chronically underfunded in Washington State. Rather than spending a lot of money on a new brick-and-mortar campus, WTU will operate as a disaggregated institution, capitalizing on existing community & technical college facilities and offering extended coursework to students who wish to continue their studies beyond community college. WTU will meet the credits and classwork of community & technical college graduates. A 2 + 2 model will allow students to seamlessly progress without worrying about credit transfers or transfer agreements.
Affordable, flexible, relevant, technical—Washington Technology University is a new way of thinking about education in Washington State.
A full proposal, “Washington Technology University: A proposal for a new institution of higher education to meet the demands of the innovation economy in Washington State”, is available. For more information, contact: Susanna Williams email@example.com 206.406.1344″
The WTIA’s top priority is helping our members and the tech industry at large solve its workforce needs. Our advocacy has helped bring attention and action to the issue of higher education capacity, especially with regards to STEM degrees. This idea of a high quality polytechnic university is worth discussing in more detail. To do it right will take lots of brains, resources and time. The WTIA will gladly be a voice in that conversation.