An excellent education is a prerequisite for success in the 21st century. In the past 25 years, America has shifted from a post-World War...

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An excellent education is a prerequisite for success in the 21st century.

In the past 25 years, America has shifted from a post-World War II industrial economy to a hyper-competitive economy driven by a knowledgeable and skilled work force. This evolution will continue, and the demands on our workers will only increase in the years ahead.

To prepare our children for this economy and to afford them every opportunity for success, we must make higher education a cultural and political priority. The time to site a four-year polytechnic university in Snohomish County is now. Our region must be a leader in promoting education in sciences and engineering to meet the demands of our changing and growing economy.

While the private sector is the engine that drives our economy, government impacts the climate for commerce, industry and opportunity. Today, like never before, Snohomish County is creating new opportunities to expand and grow the economy. But all of our work to recruit the jobs of tomorrow will be lost if our students are not equipped with the tools needed to compete for these jobs.

Washington state’s higher-education system is simply not generating enough graduates in the sciences and engineering to meet the needs of our knowledge-based economy. The facts are staggering:

• Washington state leads the nation in the number of engineers per 10,000 workers, is sixth in the number of computer specialists per 10,000 workers and is ninth in the number of physical and life scientists per 10,000 workers.

• However, our state is ranked 38th in the number of bachelor’s degrees granted in science and engineering.

• During the 2003-’04 school years, only 4 percent of our students were enrolled in engineering and related technologies, and just 2 percent were enrolled in computer science at our four-year public schools.

• As a whole, our state’s four-year public institutions rank 49th in the nation in participation.

• And, closer to home, the advanced learning needs of more than 11,000 college-eligible students in Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties will go unmet because we do not have a public four-year university in Snohomish County.

Clearly, Washington state is not meeting the current demands, much less the future demands, of our economy.

It is time to recognize the long-term competitive disadvantages our region faces in the global economy if we continue to inadequately invest in higher education. Our state is falling behind both nationally and globally.

Other states recognize the urgent need for higher-education investments and are stepping forward to answer the calls from business for highly skilled employees. Recent trends have spurred other states into action. Washington must not stand still.

This trend must change.

After studying this issue for the past year, a local advisory committee of elected officials and business and community leaders is recommending the creation of an independent four-year polytechnic university in Snohomish County.

To make this a reality and reverse the trend in Washington state, we are developing a broad coalition of support from local leaders, the Washington Roundtable, Microsoft, Boeing and other local companies that will continue working with us to build a four-year polytechnic university in Snohomish County.

People with engineering and mathematics degrees are a driving force for our economy, creating new jobs and new industries that can help employ others who do not have advanced degrees. Research and development will turn into production and exports, a fact that is vital not only to the trade balance but to the health of our economy.

We have a clear choice: We can either prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow, or we can continue to fill local jobs with workers imported from other states and overseas.

Aaron Reardon is the Snohomish County executive.