SEATTLE – Over the past four years, Washington state has not made progress toward getting more students to earn degrees in high-demand fields, mostly because of the recession, according to a new report from the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Employers all over the state are begging for more college graduates in certain fields, and those needs haven’t really changed, despite an ambitious plan researched by the higher education board in 2007 and issued in 2008.
“The same challenges we’ve tried to address in the past decade or so aren’t getting any better,” Don Bennett, executive director of the HEC Board, said Tuesday. “We’re not ramping up in the areas that we’ve identified previously.”
Anyone who watches the Legislature knows that is a bit of an understatement.
State dollars flowing toward higher education have shrunk every year since the recession started, and this year’s Legislature is planning for another year of cuts.
This might not seem like a good time for strategic planning, but anytime is a good time to plan, Bennett said. The Regional Needs Analysis Report issued this week is the first step toward a new higher education strategic plan for the state, he said.
Despite the economic downturn, some industries are still hiring and finding it difficult to fill jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as health science, science and math education, and business management and accounting, the HEC Board report states.
All of these fields require education beyond high school, some require a graduate degree.
The job growth in these fields is not concentrated in King County but spread out across the state, especially in health care occupations, because people need health care everywhere, Bennett said.
For every 100 bachelor’s degrees Washington state colleges and universities issue, state employers import 76 degree holders, according to HEC Board analysis. For every 100 graduate degrees produced in Washington, the state’s employers import 125.
The higher education system is going to get even more pressure from Washington employers in the coming years, as retiring baby boomers in engineering jobs at employers such as Boeing need to be replaced for new highly skilled workers, Bennett said.
The HEC Board report predicts student demand for higher education also will continue to rise over the next decade and more jobs will require some post-secondary education.