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The University of Washington is dramatically expanding its computer science program. (Photo by Mark Stone / University of Washington)

There are tens of thousands of open technology jobs in Washington state because there aren’t enough candidates trained in the necessary skills to fill them. The University of Washington has been racing to close that gap for years and will pass a critical milestone in 2018, thanks to $3 million in new funding awarded in the state’s supplemental budget.

The funds will allow UW to more than double the number of computer science degrees awarded each year, growing the program from 300 students to about 620.

Ed Lazowska, computer science professor at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo)

“Because UW tuition is significantly less than the cost of educating a student in computer science or any other engineering field, the only way we can grow is when the legislature provides additional support,” said Ed Lazowska, one of the UW’s leading computer science professors, in an email.

The $3 million concludes a four-year effort to raise funds necessary to dramatically grow the computer science department. Washington state Reps. Drew Hansen and Chad Magendanz led the legislative push.

Several years ago, they launched a plan to increase UW’s computer science budget by $2 million each year, over four years, to double the number of students in the program. The school received an extra two million in 2015, an additional $2 million in 2016, but was underfunded with only $1 million in 2017. The $3 million awarded in 2018 completes the job, according to Lazowska. The extra funding will allow the university to hire more computer science professors, teaching assistants, and other staff to support the program’s growth.

“We could take more students without increasing the resources devoted to them — without adding faculty, TAs, technical support staff, etc. but this would significantly degrade the quality of education that we provide,” Lazowska said in an email. “Washington’s students need to have a program that prepares them for Washington’s cutting-edge jobs. We can’t sacrifice that.”

UW has also raised a $110 million to build a new, state-of-the-art computer science building to house the new students. MicrosoftAmazonGoogleZillow, The Gates Foundation, and other donors contributed millions to the project.

The UW computer science funding is one of many wins for higher education in Washington’s short legislative session. The state also funded financial aid programs and added community colleges and technical vocational schools to the institutions approved by the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which helps women and minorities pursue STEM degrees.

This post has been updated to clarify the distinction between state and private funds raised for the UW computer science program. 

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