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UW's intro to computer science classes are in high demand. Photo via Helene Martin.
UW’s intro to computer science classes are in high demand. Photo via Helene Martin.

Plans for a new computer science and engineering building at the University of Washington are moving forward.

The UW Board of Regents on Thursday approved funding to hire Seattle-based LMN Architects and begin developing a plan for the school’s second CSE building.

The UW houses its programming students at the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering, which opened a decade ago but is currently operating at full capacity. As we noted last year, demand for computer science degrees is reaching all-time highs. In fact, there are more than 1,000 people enrolled in the intro to computer science class this winter quarter.

Enrollment in the into computer science classes continues to grow each quarter. Graph via UW CSE.
Enrollment in the into computer science classes continues to grow each quarter. Graph via UW CSE.

To accommodate for that growth, leaders within the UW CSE program have been looking for ways to create new classrooms and hire more faculty. Bringing on LMN Architects is an initial milestone toward that goal. The firm, which was picked from about a dozen other proposals, will spend the next several months working on a “pre-design,” and is expected to continue developing a full plan later on.

“We’re firmly committed to responding to the ever-increasing demand for computer science education by students and by employers,” said Ed Lazowska, the department’s Bill & Melinda Gates Chair. “This is the first step in a process to develop the physical capacity that will enable us to address many of the challenges we face in growing and evolving UW CSE.”

Lazowska said that the department wants to double its current 300 degrees per year to 600, and also dramatically increase the availability of upper-division courses to non-majors.

Ed Lazowska.
Ed Lazowska in the KIRO studio.

Lazowska noted that the UW “has made this building its top capital project priority,” and estimates the total cost of the new project to be around $100 million. Funding for the building will come from a mix of private and public contributions — the department received its first major donation last month. In addition, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee set aside $40 million in state funding for the project in his proposed budget for 2015-to-2017.

However, the department says it will need state funding for more than just a new building — doubling enrollment will come with the associated costs.

“UW tuition, although it has increased in recent years, doesn’t nearly cover the cost of preparing a student who will be competitive for jobs at Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and the hot startups,” Lazowska said. “We are hopeful that the Legislature will find a way to continue our enrollment growth.”

If the move to the Allen Center in 2003 is any indication, a new building could do wonders for the CSE program. The Allen Center helped the UW become a nationally-recognized place for CSE education and supported projects involving education, healthcare technology, energy savings in the home, modern automobiles, big data, and a whole lot more. Some of that research has been used to churn out successful startups from the department, too.


In recent months, the department has held focus group sessions with CEOs and CTOs from leading employers around Seattle to help plan for the months and years ahead.

“We received extremely useful guidance from these sessions,” Lazowska noted. “The ‘high order bits,’ in my view, were that we need to grow — computer science is of ever-increasing importance, and public universities have a responsibility to the students and companies of their region — and we need to maintain the quality of our graduates. Many CEOs and CTOs who participated in the focus groups said something along the lines of, ‘When I hire a UW CSE graduate, I know I’m getting someone outstanding.’ Maintaining this needs to be a top priority.”

Related: How the University of Washington plans to become a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation

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