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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 28, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Washington loses more college students than it gains

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

When he was president of  the State University of New York Institute of Technology (SUNYIT), Bjong “Wolf” Yeigh was well aware of New York’s brain-drain problem: The state’s bountiful numbers of college students didn’t stick around after graduation.

Now that he’s chancellor of the University of Washington Bothell, Yeigh finds he’s in a state with education issues that are, in some respects, the opposite.

New York, which is home to hundreds of small liberal arts colleges, attracts more college students than it loses to other states. In fall 2012, for example, federal data shows that about 33,000 of New York’s first-time college students (primarily freshmen)  left the state to go to college elsewhere. But about 39,000 students from other states moved to New York to go to college, more than making up for the loss.

Yeigh was analyzing the data this year and was surprised to learn that Washington experiences the opposite effect. In fact, it’s one of only 11 states with a net loss of first-time college students.

While nearly 11,000 first-time college students left Washington in fall 2012 to go to college elsewhere, only about 7,000 freshmen moved to Washington to attend school here, according to federal data. (The numbers include two- and four-year colleges.) About one-quarter of Washington residents who enrolled in college for the first time in fall 2012 did so in another state.

Of all the western states, Washington experiences the biggest loss of college students. Alaska is the only other western state that loses more students than it gains. Even Oregon, Montana and Idaho gain more college students than they lose.

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Is this a problem? It’s certainly a puzzle. Why do so many students leave Washington state — are they seeking a sunnier climate? (Many go to California, Yeigh notes.) Are they looking for a private school setting? (Washington has only a handful of private four-year colleges.)

Do they have a hard time getting into colleges here? Do they all come back when they graduate?

In New York, policymakers were concerned that the state’s college graduates didn’t stick around after graduation. “After they finished degrees, they would leave the state because there weren’t jobs,” Yeigh said. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue here, where business studies show there’s a dearth of qualified people for certain jobs, especially in the tech sector.

Whether Washington has enough seats for all the local college-bound students that want to study here has long been an issue.

In 1990, the state Legislature funded the creation of five branch campuses — two through the UW and three through Washington State University — to expand options here.

Yeigh notes that data from another source, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual almanac, shows that the University of Washington-Bothell is the third-fastest-growing public master’s degree-granting university in the country, with a 155 percent increase in enrollment between 2002 and 2012.

The 10th-fastest-growing university is the UW-Tacoma, with an 85 percent increase in enrollment in the 10-year period.

Did you or your kids leave Washington state for college? If so, what went into that decision? Tell us in the comments.

Comments | Topics: College-going, higher ed, UW-Bothell


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