High-tech graduation gaps are wide — and unlikely to just go away

Idaho businesses need more engineering and computer science graduates than they can find in state.

The problem isn’t likely to just go away.

“We think there’s a gap right now,” said Christina Sedney of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, “(and) we think that gap is projected to grow over time.”

And that means Idaho high-tech employers are forced to look out of state for workers — and they might decide to expand their businesses elsewhere.

Last week, WICHE shared a report on the graduate shortages to the State Board of Education. The numbers were grim:

  • Idaho employers expected to have about 1,950 engineering openings this year. The state’s public institutions are expected to produce less than 900 engineering graduates. Private schools — particularly Brigham Young University-Idaho — narrow the gap somewhat. But public and private schools are still expected to award fewer than 1,300 engineering degrees.
  • Employers expect to have nearly 1,600 computer science openings. The state’s public and private schools are projected to have barely 900 computer science graduates.

Sticking to the status quo isn’t going to help much; the number of engineering and computer science graduates would increase only slightly, said Sedney, WICHE’s director of policy and strategic initiatives.

WICHE recommended a series of systemic changes: beefing up high school math, so students are better prepared for college; bridging the gender gap and encouraging more young women to pursue engineering and computer science degrees; and supporting engineering and computer science students, so they are less likely to switch to a different major.

Employers will look to other states for graduates, even if they’re pleased with the quality of students coming out of Idaho schools, said Patrick Lane, WICHE’s vice president for policy analysis and research.

The state commissioned the WICHE research after the 2022 Legislature funded the study.

After hearing the results Thursday, State Board members seemed to agree on the need to take the case to the Legislature. But lawmakers also need to hear from industries affected by the shortage of graduates, board member Bill Gilbert said.

“We can only do so much,” he said.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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