In a recent article, the New York Times touted the Computer Science program at the University of Washington as emerging as one of the best in the country, drawing students and graduates away from Silicon Valley and the east coast. Currently, the article states, 80 percent of the program’s students come from Washington state and the demand for students in the STEM field continues to grow. However, do all of Washington’s students have access to this buzz-worthy program?
Growing Achievement Gap
As we reported earlier in the post Digging in to the NAEP Data, the achievement gap between students of color (particularly Latino and African American students) and White students is profound. In Washington state, African American students performed at a proficiency rate of 15 percent and Latino students performed at 17 percent while White students performed at 43 percent. The gap between low-income students (21 percent proficiency rate) and non-low income students (45 percent proficiency rate) is just as stark. According to data from OSPI, the math passage rate for African American students has been steadily decreasing since the 2005-2006 year. For the 2009-2010 school year, African American students had a proficiency rate of 19 percent on the Math High School Proficiency Exam. White students had a proficiency rate of 47.4 percent on the Math High School Proficiency Exam for the same year. That is close to a twenty point gap.
Growing Cost of College
In an Op-ed for the Seattle Times, two members of the University of Washington’s Regent Board stated that they believe that Washington’s current education funding model is unsustainable, writing: “Twenty years ago, the state government paid 80 percent of the cost of a student’s education and a student paid 20 percent. Today, the state pays 30 percent of the cost, and the student pays 70 percent.” The 2012-2013 academic year marks the fourth year in a row where the University of Washington has to increase tuition. The University of Washington is not alone and many students are finding that they cannot pay.
Washington’s Major Disconnect
A recent piece in the Spokesman Review linked college drop-out rates to the inability to pay college costs and argues that if students were able to figure out the “pay-out” of certain degrees , the drop-out rate would decrease. In the article, they report that the most popular major in many of Washington’s private and public universities is Business, even though the most needed majors for jobs reside in STEM. Citing a Georgetown study, the article states that “there will be eight million jobs in the STEM fields by 2018. But data reveal a small minority of students graduating with degrees in those areas.”
The achievements of the computer science program at the University of Washington deserve to be applauded. However, looking at the data reveals that not all of Washington’s students have access to the world-class education like UW is providing. We can be doing a lot more to ensure that they do, including closing the achievement gap, making college affordable, and giving college students enough information to decide what major works best for them.