Seattle and Washington state have a lot to crow about when it comes to the innovation economy, including disproportionately large technology employment and R&D investment compared to many other states.
In that context, a different statistic is so jarring that Laura Ruderman, CEO of the Technology Alliance, made a point of saying it twice during the organization’s annual State of Technology Luncheon on Wednesday in Seattle — acknowledging that it might take a moment to sink in with the audience of tech leaders.
“We’d like to take a data-driven deep dive into the problem of why Washington state consistently ranks at the bottom of states that send their kids to college, in or out of state,” Ruderman said, describing the Tech Alliance’s upcoming goals.
The need for homegrown college grads is a key issue for talent-hungry tech companies. The statistic clearly surprised some in the audience, including keynote speaker Yoko Miyashita, CEO of cannabis information company Leafly, who brought it up during her on-stage conversation with Pallavi Mehta Wahi of K&L Gates.
“That’s just shocking, and we should be really appalled by that,” Miyashita said.
So what is the statistic, exactly? We followed up to find out more.
Ruderman pointed us to resources including the Tech Alliance’s Benchmarking Reports, the 2021 version of which offers this summary of data from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems: “53% of Washington students go directly from high school to college, placing us 46th in the nation and ahead of only Utah in our cohort states. Nearly 80% of students in Massachusetts go directly to higher education.”
It’s not a new issue. “Education experts say there is no single reason why Washington has stumbled at getting kids to go to college,” the Seattle Times reported nearly a decade ago. “It’s the sum of a variety of issues that have together created a weak college-going culture.”
The issue also came up during a panel discussion at the event. Michelle Reid, superintendent of the Northshore School District, northeast of Seattle, said Washington state is 48th among all states in sending traditionally underrepresented students to post-secondary education.
“I think we have to stop thinking about this as a student issue. This is a system problem; there’s nothing wrong with our students,” Reid said, to applause. “Unless we can disrupt the system in significant ways, we will continue to put good people into the system who are not able to flourish, or have robust outcomes.”
Ruderman said the Tech Alliance, which is marking its 25th anniversary, plans to release an updated economic impact report next month, comparing the current state of the innovation economy to the 1997 version of the report.