Governor's Technology Workforce Summit

Policy Options for Discussion


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Policy Options for Discussion at September 29 Technology Workforce Summit

This list of policy options is designed to stimulate discussion within the high tech industry and among state educators as to solutions to the high tech skill gap that will be discussed at the September 29 Technology Workforce Summit. This list is does not imply the endorsement or support of any of these ideas by any party at this time.

1.  Increase the Capacity of Washington Educational Institutions to close the skills gap:

A.  Establish 2- and 10 year objectives for bachelors, graduate, associate and skills standards degrees in high tech fields.

B.  Dramatically expand Bachelors capacity in technical fields. The biggest skill gap facing the high tech industry is a shortage of bachelor's-level students. A 1998 Washington Software Alliance study estimated that in the software industry there is one qualified person for every eight computer science and engineering positions requiring a four year degree. Since that time, the number of graduates from high tech programs at Washington public universities has increased by 40%. But we are still far short of the scale needed to close the gap. There are four approaches to solving this problem that can be utilized and they are not mutually exclusive.

1.  Expand Capacity: The first approach would allow existing colleges and universities to expand capacity by competing for high demand FTEs (or full time equivalent student seats or slots). The programs that demonstrated the most demand for their programs and indicated that they had redirected the same number of FTEs from within the university could receive funding to expand their capacity. A similar approach used in the 1999 state budget resulted in capacity expansions at WSU and Western in management information systems.

2.  Create a Technological Institute or Center: The second approach would be to create a technology institute or technology center within an existing university and focus on dramatically increasing the number of FTEs at this particular institution.

The program would have a focus on outreach to potential students, targeted mentoring and special encouragement for women and minorities as well as a plan for remediation and retention programs to respond to the needs of students. This approach could contribute to a narrowing of the digital divide and to a higher retention rate for computer science, engineering and other technical programs than are currently seen by other programs in this state.

The expanded institute or technology center could be a key economic development tool to expand the benefits of the industry to a wider area. Tacoma is an attractive location because it is close enough to the core of the IT industry to service the industry's needs in King County but would also have the effect of spreading the benefits of the high technology economy to an area that has yet to benefit from tech jobs (only 5 out of 1,000 jobs in the South Sound are tech jobs compared to 95 in King County). Other locations may be too far from the core of the industry. Lower rents, connectivity (Tacoma has invested extensive resources in high bandwidth cable) and reduced congestion make Tacoma an ideal site. The University of Washington already operates a computer science program in that city and has been active in outreach to diverse communities.

3.  Startup or Improve New Programs: The third approach would to provide workforce development or information technology instruction grants to startup or improve high technology programs. Universities and colleges would have to bring in a 50% business match to receive funding. Funding in 1998, went to the University of Washington to double the size of their computer engineering undergraduate program major; WSU for development programming courses expanding laboratories and management information systems; Western to create the Department of Internet Studies, and Eastern to create a Center for Distributed Computing Sciences.

4.  Expand online and distance learning degree and certificate programs: The fourth approach would continue to expand online and off-campus bachelor's program like the University of Washington's Computing and Software System Professional Program. This format can provide a Bachelors-level education without requiring the same faculty or facility costs as on campus programs. They also provide greater accessibility and convenience for working students. Overall, University of Washington extension programs sponsored by the computer science and engineering department have increased enrollments from 882 students in 1991/92 to 4,643 students in the 1999/00 school year.

C.  Encourage cooperation and articulation between universities, college and school districts.

Continue building a clear system of articulation between skills standards based programs, technical degrees, Associate of Science, Computer Science and Engineering Degrees. Expand the use and acceptance of the new Associate in Science transfer degree developed by community colleges and public universities aimed at lower division preparation for science majors.

We also need to work to reward institutions for sharing curriculum and cooperating in program development and instruction.

Possible options could include:

D.  Expand community and technical college capacity: The WSA study estimated that in 1998 the software industry there is one qualified person for every four computer science and engineering positions requiring a two year degree or industry certification. Since that time the number of gradates from community college high tech programs has increased by 1/3 and over the past seven years the number of graduates has increased by 82%. Community colleges definitely have been retooling to meet the demands of this crucial industry. Again, the scale of the skills gap is so large, much more needs to be done.

1.  High Tech and High Demand Workforce Development Grants: The legislature appropriated $3.3 million in the last budget cycle, matched by substantial private sector dollars, to expand high tech/high demand programs in community colleges. The grants created 6,900 seats (of 2,500 full time equivalent slots) for high tech programs at state community colleges.

2.  Expand Capacity: Allow existing colleges and universities to expand capacity by competing for high demand FTEs (or full time equivalent student seats or slots). The programs that demonstrated the most demand for their programs could receive funding to expand their capacity. The High Demand FTE program in the 1999 budget appropriated $4 million to enable 7 community colleges to expand capacity by 480 FTEs to increase enrollments in high technology program starting this fall. Capacity is still inadequate.

3.  Expand online programs: The Community College's Washington Online Program currently offers online high tech courses to 34, 000 students throughout the state. Expanding curriculum offers another mechanism for expanding capacity at this level as well.

E.  Create a faculty recruitment and retention fund to increase salaries for community college and university faculty in high tech fields. It is difficult for educational institutions to expand capacity if they are unable to recruit and retain faculty. High skilled faculty are being lured away by high paying jobs in the industry or to other colleges and universities that are beginning to offer salaries competitive with industry. A fund would be created to make these salaries more competitive in both community colleges and universities.

F.  Organize industry-sponsored faculty training. The technology industry is a rapidly changing sector of the economy. To prepare students well for high tech jobs, faculty must be current in the latest technology. The industry itself is the best place for faculty to receive this information. Regional summer institutes for technology faculty across institutions would foster collaboration as well are provide professional development for faculty. Universities could also partner with industry to create "shadow job" programs for faculty.

G.  Improve retention rates for technology majors at state colleges and universities: Create learning or tutorial centers within colleges and universities to enable students to get expert advice from technical staff as well tutorials for self-paced learning of particular programs. Universities or colleges could develop proposals for learning centers and then apply for the workforce development or information technology instruction grants to fund them.

H.  Build lifelong learning programs in technology: The University of Washington Extension Program and the State Community College system have both developed a series of short-term certificates available online that allow students to take short courses that provide marketable certificates recognized in the industry. Students can then build on these courses over time and add additional and higher level certificates over time. In the end they could gain an Associate degree, a Bachelors degree or even a graduate degree in information technology, computer science, computer and electrical engineering.

By formatting degrees into a sequence of these certificates that recognize mastery of discrete portions of the curriculum, students can proceed over a number of years toward completion of entire degree programs, while working and moving up the job ladder by acquiring marketable skills along the way.

This strategy would allow multiple entry points into the educational process and creates a multi-purposed educational curriculum that will appeal to degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students alike. This modular approach combined with improved access via a combination of online, distance, facilitated, weekend and evening learning will make high tech education a viable option for a vastly larger number of people.

The policy proposal would expand existing community and technical college programs and the UW Extension Computing and Software Systems Professional programs.

I.  Create a mentorship/apprenticeship program for students looking for experience in the high tech industry. These industry-based opportunities will serve as a means to expose young people to jobs in the high tech industry and the levels of preparation they will require.

J.  Create a low-income worker-training program designed to prepare workers for entry-level jobs in the industry


2.  Strengthen and expand the K-12 pipeline of future high tech professionals:

A.  Increase interest and achievement in math and science. Developing a strong technology workforce starts with investing in the pipeline of future workers in our K-12 education system today. We must strengthen math and science curriculum and instruction, making it more rigorous and engaging for students, starting with building awareness and interest in math, science, engineering and technology in elementary and middle grades. In addition, additional investments in extended learning opportunities, such before/after school and summer school programs are needed at all levels for students who have traditionally underperformed in math and science; especially female and high-poverty students.

B.  Recruit and retain math and science expertise to the K-12 teaching profession. Washington is facing shortages in qualified math and science teachers. Additional financial incentives should be available to attract more math and science majors to teaching, as well as financial and career growth opportunities as incentives for these teachers to remain in the profession. Washington also needs high-quality alternative routes to certification for mid-career professionals in high-tech, science, engineering, and math interested in pursuing a second career in teaching. In addition, existing educators need professional development for updating their knowledge and skills in math, science and technology content and instructional methods. Policy options include:

C.  Increase K-12 student interest in technology careers through expansion of Tech Prep program. Tech Prep focuses on career planning and preparation for higher education professional/technical programs for students, and specific dual credit agreements between high schools, colleges and universities. Expansion of these agreements could serve as a major pipeline for young people to enter technology education and training programs.

D.  Improve and expand math, science, and literacy curriculum and resources available on the K-20 network. Competence in math, science, and English literacy is essential for students to succeed in technology education at the post-secondary level and in technology careers. A valuable resource for enhancing the math, science, and literacy curriculum in high schools is the K-20 network. K-12 schools need information about and access to useful online curriculum and instructional resources, as well as training in their use. K-12 students, especially secondary level students in rural communities, need opportunities to use K-20 to access upper-level math and science courses not offered in their schools.

Another approach is for college and university distance learning and high school outreach programs to combine to train and utilize existing instructional resources within the high schools to deliver college-level course content to high school, enabling students to gain access to college-level courses not available in their own schools. This program would build upon or enhance the state's K12 grant program funded in the 1999 budget.

E.  K-20 Computer Fluency: The National Research Council and the University of Washington have developed a course to allow all students to understand the basic elements of the information age and allow them to pursue more in-depth study. This class could be formatted into several versions to address the needs of K-12, community college and other students online.

F.  Create a statewide technology recruitment and retention program that would coordinate effort to increase the interest and proficiency of high school, community college and university students in technology fields .


3.  Improve financial access to high tech education program:

A.  Bright Futures Scholarships: Induce interest in high tech occupations by Providing conditional scholarships in the form of forgivable loans to students who enroll in training for occupations in high tech and other high demand industrial sectors. The scholarships would cover up to double the costs of tuition and service and activities fees for enrollment in these degree or certificate programs. Loans would be forgiven over a two-year period as students work in the field for which they are trained. A 100% scholarship match from the industry benefiting is required in order to make a program eligible for the grant.

B.  ICAN scholarship for qualified WorkFirst recipients to pursue degrees and certificates in high technology fields.


4.  Invest Strategically in Our State Research Universities:

Every major study of high-tech economic development cites the presence of strong research institutions as the number one success factor. Boston has Harvard and MIT; the Research Triangle is named after Duke, UNC, and NC State; Austin has the University of Texas; Silicon Valley has Berkeley and Stanford; Seattle has the University of Washington; and so on. Research institutions generate intellectual property that becomes the basis for creating new commercial ventures and new products for existing firms, create an environment that is attractive to technology-based businesses seeking to locate or relocate their operations, help put the state on the map for venture capital and other investors, as well as producing a skilled workforce.

A.  Make the University of Washington One of the Top Five Computer Science Programs in the Nation. The UW Department of Computer Science & Engineering exemplifies these critical contributions: it is ranked among the top ten in the nation, and it has spawned ten new companies in the past four years. In addition, UW is the largest supplier of students in the nation to Microsoft and to Intel. But UW CSE is in fierce competition with its peers - for faculty, for students, for research programs. This competition promises to further intensify as other states invest massively in their own research institutions. Washington's current IT boom affords and excellent opportunity to take the department to the next level by implementing a clear strategy that leverages state, federal, and private resources. This strategy has two elements:

B.  Expand the Advanced Technology Initiative at the University of Washington and Washington State University. The Legislature has provided $4.0 million to the University of Washington and Washington State University to enable them to invest in specific fields where a combination of cutting-edge research and new educational initiatives can create new industries or revitalize existing industries. The selected fields include Computer Graphics and Digital Animation at the UW and Semiconductor Manufacture at WSU. The two universities have recently identified photonics and genomics as among the potential new areas that can help create new products and companies and provide graduates with the skills needed to for them to grow and prosper. Funding of these new ATI programs in the next and subsequent biennium would help provide new anchors for technology-based business.

C.  Make WSU one the top Management Information System programs in the country. Washington State University has invested considerable resources in developing a management information systems major within the College of Business and Education. The number of students majoring in MIS has grown 500% within the last four years. Key needs identified for upgrading and expanding this program include faculty pay, the number of faculty and technology support personnel.

Send comments to: GoodIdeas@governor.wa.gov