In Gates' home state, computer education goes missing

Microsoft challenges Washington state legislature to support computer science education. Only 8 percent of Seattle-area tech workers were educated in the state.

Washington state, home to the world's most famous - and rich - computer whiz kid, is at risk at losing that most precious technical resource. The Seattle Times reports that Microsoft is warning the state legislature that fewer students are graduating with computer science and computer engineering degrees.

"At a certain level, it's simply a tragedy," says Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel. "It's a lost opportunity for the next generation of people growing up in Washington state."

In the past, high-tech has defined the region. The state estimates there will be nearly 30,000 openings for computer specialists in the next decade, but there seems to be waning interest. There are only 160 computer science graduates from UW each year, and enrollment in computer science classes remains flat. At Seattle Pacific University, administrators are considered closing their computer science department altogether due to low enrollment.

Seattle is not for want of engineers and computer scientists, however. They just aren't coming out of schools from Washington state. Among the 33,000 people working at Microsoft in the in Puget Sound region, at least 11,000 are foreign-born. Only 8 percent of the company's workforce was educated in Washington.

"It is an outrage," says former legislator Denny Heck, who's been appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to Washington Learns, a blue-ribbon group charged with finding ways to improve the education system. "It's a missed opportunity for local citizens and the local economy of epic proportions."