Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Don't Blame Wal-Mart for Outsourcing and Low Wages

Blame the American education system.

According to Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat, Asian universities (specifically in China and India) currently produce eight times as many bachelor's degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.

Who cares if workers in Asian countries make the flip-flops sold at Wal-Mart? American workers don't want those menial jobs anyway. No, we're talking about the "good" jobs, the "living wage" jobs with good benefits in high-tech. It's not Wal-Mart that is driving those jobs away. It's our payoff for the last thirty years that the liberal, left-wing, multicultural, politically correct, gender-neutral, everyone's-a-winner, hand-holding, Kum-Ba-Yah mentality has infected our school systems.

The country that once led the Industrial Revolution is about to see its dominance slip away to semi-Third World countries. Those WSU Liberal Arts professors ought to be singing Wal-Mart's praises instead of protesting it. It's the only place where someone with a degree in Anti-American Studies with minors in White Man Hating and Marxist Cinema is going to find a job.

The silence from the unions on this issue is deafening. They just want everyone to be paid like an engineer, without actually having to put in the work for the degree.

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:

WSU feels heat from business leaders

Demand is there for more grads from technical fields

Almost half of the job openings in Washington state over the next five years will be in technical fields like engineering, computer science and nursing. However, only 14 or 15 percent of university graduates statewide will receive degrees in those fields, according to an economic development group based in Seattle.

That means the state is equipping students for jobs that won’t exist, said Bill McSherry, director of economic development with the Puget Sound Regional Council.

We’re importing people from other states to fill the jobs our economy is creating.”

The Puget Sound Regional Council is an association of local and state governments that helps develop policies and recommendations about regional growth and transportation issues. The organization has been working with Washington State University, the University of Washington and the state’s regional universities and community colleges to get more graduates with math and science degrees.

In addition to graduates in engineering, computer science and nursing, the group would like to see more people in medical research, life science, and secondary education who would teach math, chemistry and physics.

Larry Ganders, assistant to the president of WSU, said he feels the pressure from businesses to produce more of those high-tech professionals.

Businesses have to hire engineers from overseas, and the leaders of those businesses wonder why state universities aren’t producing more of them, Ganders said.

To them, it just seems ludicrous that we don’t educate more engineers,” he said.

But there are problems behind the shortage of engineering and other high-tech graduates that businesses may not see. The programs are difficult and not a lot of students are interested in them, and those programs are expensive. Engineering and other math- or science-heavy programs cost WSU two to three times more than other programs.

“These programs just cost a lot of money,” Ganders said. “That’s the initial reason we don’t do more of it.”

The state funds WSU based on enrollment. The university generally receives between $5,000 and $7,000 per undergraduate student. Engineering, nursing, and computer science programs cost about $15,000 per student.

“The reality is we lose money, if you will, on the money that’s allocated to us for new engineers,” said Ganders, who is based in Olympia and works closely with the Legislature.

McSherry understands the programs are expensive, but the Puget Sound Regional Council has studied data and is looking at the kind of positions that will open up between 2007 and 2012.

“We looked at that and then we compared that with current production levels (of graduates),” McSherry said. “It’s pretty stark right now.”

The council has detailed projections of the job market and will present those numbers to the Legislature during the next session.

The Legislature appropriated money during the last session for 500 students statewide in those high-demand programs, McSherry said. That’s a step in the right direction, but legislators need to fund more than 500 science and math students a year.

McSherry said he doesn’t have any specific ideas on how WSU could increase the number of high-tech grads, but he does have a good idea of what the economy will need in the next few years. He would like to see 8,000 more bachelor degrees produced every year in Washington by 2010. A large percentage of those should be in high-tech, high-demand fields.

While businesses are calling for more grads in engineering, computer science and biotechnology, more students are going into degrees like communications, athletic training and clinical psychology. WSU has more applicants to those programs than it can accept, but produces a supply of graduates that roughly matches employers’ demands.

As for students who choose fields with an emphasis on math and science, it’s not uncommon to have students get frustrated and pursue something else after they take the initial math and science classes.

“There’s a fair amount of attrition in these programs,” Ganders said.

WSU has been looking at some gateway math and science courses that all engineering students take, said WSU Associate Executive President Larry James.

“We’re making special efforts to really improve those classes,” he said. So far, WSU has seen improvements. More students are getting through those classes and sticking with their programs.

WSU also has increased the number of students it admits to its nursing, construction management and neuroscience programs, all of which are in high demand by employers, James said.

WSU also is working on programs to get students interested in math and science at a younger age.

Despite these programs, there are still not enough students coming to WSU in science and engineering, James said.

“There’s going to come a point where we don’t have the students,” Ganders said.

Microsoft is also looking at the issue. It’s engaged in a constant discussion on how the United States can reinvigorate math and science in schools, said company spokesman Lou Gellos.

“We recognize the numbers are dwindling,” he said.

Currently, Microsoft doesn’t have a problem finding new hires. It has a high acceptance rate of people signing on, he said.

“We’re finding the pool is shrinking,” Gellos said. “What happens five years from now or 10 years from now?”
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