Washington Higher-Ed Woes Tied to State ‘Leadership Vacuum’

Washington politicians have abdicated their leadership role in higher education, leaving the state with a disjointed system that doesn't produce enough bachelor's degrees and forces employers to go out of state — and even out of the country — to find skilled workers.

That's the conclusion of a report from the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, which noted that only 40 of every 100 Washington students who start ninth grade will enter college on time. The authors say state leaders should set "clear goals and an ambitious agenda" to increase the number of students earning bachelor's degrees.

Much of the report's conclusions are not news to state policy leaders, who have been concerned for some time about the weak output of college degrees, especially in high-demand fields such as computer science and engineering. But this report puts the blame largely on state leadership — especially Gov. Chris Gregoire, but also state legislators — for what the authors call a "policy leadership vacuum."

The report by Joni Finney and Laura Perna, from Penn's Institute for Higher Education Research, and Patrick Callan, of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, is being released around the same time that a committee led by Gregoire has recommended creating a new state higher-education agency to coordinate between K-12 and postsecondary education.

"It's a very useful, powerful analysis that arrives at exactly the right time," said state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee and was a member of Gregoire's committee.

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