The University of Washington is a $9.1 billion-a-year economic engine, the state’s third-largest employer and a provider of one-third of all degrees earned here.
The capacity for the powerhouse to do more is laid out in a set of recommendations by the Washington Futures Committee, a group of business and civic leaders who tasked themselves with mapping out the school’s future.
In a report to the UW Board of Regents, the committee, chaired by former regent William Gates Sr., urges the university to take in more in-state college students, keep tuition affordable and increase the number of degrees earned in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Research points to a large and growing gap between the number of job openings in Washington state and the number of qualified workers available to fill them: The gap will grow by 5,000 jobs each year, reaching 50,000 jobs by 2017.
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About 90 percent of the jobs are in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and health-care fields.
The UW increased this year’s freshmen class to take in more in-state residents. About 60 percent of UW undergraduates get some form of financial aid, and a third pay no tuition as a result of the much-appreciated Husky Promise.
But educating more of our state’s citizens and keeping tuition affordable requires sustained support by the Legislature. Lawmakers funded higher education well enough in the 2013-2015 biennial budget for institutions to hold the line on tuition this academic year. But lawmakers in Olympia have years of disinvestment in higher education to make up for. Consider this for perspective: In 2009, the UW received $402 million in state appropriations. Last year, the school got just $209 million.
The state budget cannot move the needle alone. The Futures Committee suggests the UW search for ways to be more efficient and to leverage technology and research produced on its campuses. In 2012, the UW launched 17 startup companies based on UW technologies, nearly doubling the amount created the previous year.
The final recommendation by the committee urged stronger communications and outreach by UW to key stakeholders, from lawmakers to prospective students. That’s a key part of telling the story of how important Washington’s public universities and colleges are to this state’s vibrant health and economy.
These are suggestions worthy and useful enough for discussion at all of Washington’s public institutions of higher education.