Colorado policymakers and educators have an important decision to make. We can continue to fall victim to a talent gap, or we can embrace the opportunity and begin to equip our students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce. The business community urges the latter. see more...
Colorado policymakers and educators have an important decision to make. We can continue to fall victim to a talent gap, or we can embrace the opportunity and begin to equip our students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in the modern workforce.
The business community urges the latter.
Colorado is home to many advanced industries, and, in turn, thousands of careers requiring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills. By 2020, nearly 55 percent of the state's top jobs will require these skills. Many of these occupations pay well, and nearly half of them do not require a four-year college degree.
In Colorado, one of the most in-demand STEM careers is computer science. Colorado currently has more than 16,000 open computing jobs, and the average salary of these occupations is $92,000. By contrast, the overall average salary in Colorado is around $50,000.
These jobs aren't only in tech — two thirds of the nation's computing jobs are in other industries, including health care, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and finance.
Unfortunately, relatively few opportunities exist for students in Colorado — and across the country — to study computer science.
With such a lack of exposure and access, only 661 students took an Advanced Placement Computer Science course last year. Among those, only 19 percent were female and 13 percent were Latino or black. Yet, students who take AP Computer Science classes in high school are seven to 10 times more likely to major in it in college.
Colorado's kids deserve a better shot. It's time to bridge the gap between the students who want these skills and the colleges and employers that need these students.
Providing incentives for students, teachers and school systems to prioritize computer science would go a long way toward solving this problem. Policies that promote quality computer science programs would accelerate the pace at which school districts offer these courses and students benefit from them.
This would provide more students with the option to pursue this promising career path, and answer the business community's call for more skilled workers.
There are three bills being considered in the legislature aimed at addressing the need for more computer science opportunities in schools. Colorado Succeeds and other leading business groups strongly support them.
House Bill 1289 would provide funding bonuses — $1,000 for every high school student who successfully completes an industry certification linked to high demand jobs, finishes a rigorous postsecondary training program tied to key industry needs, or successfully completes a Computer Science AP course.
House Bill 1291 adds technology skills to the state's content standards. This would define what students need to know to succeed in computer science pathways. It also provides grants to educators interested in computer science training, creates a resource bank for schools interested in teaching computer science, and provides opportunities for industry experts to share their expertise with students in classrooms.
And House Bill 1198 would make sure computer science is included in state guidelines for math and science education, plus encourage local districts to allow computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements in math or science.
It is clear that quality teachers are the key to success, so these programs will focus on attracting, developing and rewarding excellent computer science educators.
Taken together, these bills would catapult Colorado from the middle of the pack to a position of national leadership in teaching computer science. This would greatly benefit our students, our teachers, our businesses and Colorado's economy.
More importantly, embedding technology into our schools — along with reading, writing, math and science — is inevitable. Let's do it smartly, and let's do it now.
Scott Laband is president of Colorado Succeeds, a non-partisan coalition of business leaders working to improve the state's education system.