Microsoft CEO and kajillionaire Steve Ballmer wants the state to spend more money on education:
“If you’re the CEO of the state of Washington, the first thing that you have to do is recognize that there is a capacity problem in our four-year institutions,” Ballmer said, when asked what he would do to help more people take advantage of job openings in high-skill fields here.
[…] “We have some issues about traffic … but at the end of the day, the most important thing in the context that we’re talking about here is education.”
Wow. Great minds think alike. In fact, way back in July of 2004 (before HA became a must-read blog) I lamented the UW’s decision to stop accepting community college transfers due to lack of capacity, warning that higher education is the economic engine that drives local economies.
Cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and even rust-belt poster-child Pittsburgh, survived the collapse of their manufacturing industries — and prospered — due largely to the influx of talent attracted to their prestigious colleges and universities. The best and the brightest don’t just grab their degrees and leave; many settle in their adopted cities, creating new businesses and industries, or attracting existing ones to the growing pool of qualified workers.
My question is, which schools are going to be the economic engines for Washington, when we won’t even spend the money to educate our own children, let alone attract talent from out-of-state?
I moved to Seattle as an adult about 12 years ago, so I don’t have the same provincial pride in local institutions as most of you natives. And I’m not ashamed to admit that from my snobbish, east coast, elitist perspective there is not a single undergraduate program in the state that I could brag to family about my daughter attending.
Or rather, I am ashamed to admit this, because I’m a Washingtonian now, and I’m embarrassed to see my neighbors talk about how hard it is to get into the UW — like it’s some kind of west coast Harvard — when in fact increased admissions competition is due to declining funding not rising academic standards.
The state Labor Market and Economic Analysis Branch projects about 4,400 new job openings a year for computer specialists through 2014, while Washington is graduating fewer than 700 a year in this field.
“The state does not need to produce 4,400 computer and math occupation workers every year,” Weeks said. “The state needs to hire that many every year. … Some of them are going to come from Ohio or overseas.”
Yeah, or, some of those jobs might eventually move to Ohio or overseas. It’s not like you need to invest in a multi-billion dollar factory to hire a keyboard jockey. This is an industry with a lot of inherent mobility, and if I understand my Adam Smith, our region’s high-tech industry might easily move these jobs to where the qualified labor is.
And don’t put it beyond companies like Microsoft to do exactly that. Indeed, Ballmer’s statement is more than a touch ironic considering that Microsoft already maintains a corporate headquarters in Nevada — presumably for some tax advantage — and while it’s not really fair to single out Microsoft for its tax avoidance strategies (apparently, that’s what wealthy corporations do,) I wouldn’t mind hearing Ballmer talk a little about how we might raise the extra dollars he advocates investing in education.
That said, Ballmer’s insight should not be lightly dismissed. When the CEO of our state’s most prolific millionaire mill says that increasing capacity at our four-year institutions is more crucial to the region’s economy than increasing capacity on SR-520, lawmakers might want to take notice. Washington state has a lot of amenities that makes it uniquely attractive, but our university system is not one of them. As I concluded back in 2004:
The UW is a good state university… but it is only that.
And it is not going to get any better unless we fund it properly. That doesn’t simply mean more tax dollars. We also need to build the kind of multi-billion dollar private endowment that all the best schools rely on. And we need to move away from subsidizing all students equally, towards a means-tested system where tuition approaches market prices, and students receive generous financial aid based on need.
Either that, or we can continue exporting our best and brightest out-of-state.
Not to mention our best paying jobs.