Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Increasing STEM degree completion in Washington State

Legislation enacted in Washington back in 2006 targets two areas many states are struggling with today: increasing postsecondary degree completion, and increasing the state's STEM workforce. As with the Maryland example cited in a post last week, WA's suggested business involvement and use of flexible delivery models such as online learning are two potential means to extend student learning opportunities in an economic downturn.

2006 H.B. 2817 recognizes that "community colleges play a unique role in supporting degree attainment in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through the development of transferable curricula and the maintenance of viable articulation agreements with both public and private universities." It establishes a state priority for PS institutions to encourage increased enrollments and degrees in "engineering, technology, biotechnology, sciences, computer sciences, and mathematics", and requires the higher education coordinating board to track and report on various indicators related to this state goal, including "The number and type of public-private partnerships established relating to these fields among institutions of higher education, including community colleges, and leading corporations in Washington state."

While the legislation gives PS institutions flexibility in working toward increased STEM degree completion, it proposes several examples of approaches institutions might take, such as the "establishment of institutes of technology, new polytechnic-based institutions, new divisions of existing institutions, and a flexible array of delivery models, including face-to-face learning, interactive courses, internet-based offerings, and instruction on main campuses, branch campuses, and other educational centers." It "strongly urges" PS institutions to consider STEM program growth "in areas of the state that exhibit a high concentration of aerospace, biotechnology, and technology industrial presence. Expanded science and technology programs can gain from the proximity of experienced and knowledgeable industry leaders, while industry can benefit from access to new sources of highly trained and educated graduates."

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