March 14th is a special date that math enthusiasts and educators mark on their calendars every year. It’s Pi Day, and many celebrate the occasion by highlighting the critical importance of computer science education.
Over the past decade, this enthusiasm has become a bit muted in the tech industry. It is becoming more difficult every year for us to find computer science graduates trained to fill the openings we have.
It’s no secret that the tech industry is booming. Daily headlines announce the explosive growth of startups alongside tech giants, as technology continues to be one of the strongest sectors of our economy.
This success is most visible with internet software companies and mobile app makers. The average salary for coders – the most critical expertise in any software company – reflects the success of the industry: the average software developer earns $92,820.
Despite this expertise leading to a lucrative career, our country continues to produce far fewer computer science graduates than we need. By the end of the decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects we will have one million more computing jobs than graduates to fill them.
This glaring shortfall affects companies both big and small. In order to attract and retain developers, tech titans in Silicon Valley offer employees lavish perks like gourmet cafeterias, on-site exercise classes, and personal concierge service. Yet, many still have thousands of openings.
Smaller companies face similar challenges. With fewer employees, a single developer or software engineer can make a substantial difference in a company’s success with entire teams relying on a single employee. When one departs, it can mean the end of a project and the other jobs associated with it.
We can trace the origins of this worker shortage to the absence of computer science courses in our schools. Only 1 in 10 high schools offer the class, and computer science accounted for just 0.9 percent of all Advanced Placement tests taken last year. Moreover, many of the secondary schools that offer computer science count it as an elective instead of a requirement.
This creates a cascading problem, as university students are less likely to major in a technical subject they have not studied in high school. To fill classrooms, computer science departments admit foreign students who are then ineligible to work in the U.S. upon graduation. Some companies bring in temporary specialists from overseas.
Private sector groups like CodeNow are stepping up to address these issues. This non-profit is focused on bringing hands-on, project-based computer science learning to underrepresented high school students. Just last year, CodeNow helped educate over 500 students in coding, 48 percent of whom were female. And 93 percent of those who completed the workshop expressed an interest in continuing to develop these skills.
The contributions from nonprofit and private sector sources help address this issue, but we need a significant commitment from Washington to address this on a national level. Thankfully, a bipartisan coalition of Senators has found a way to address the shortage of American computer science graduates with both short- and long-term solutions.
The I-Squared Act introduced by Senators Hatch, Klobuchar, Rubio, Coons, Flake, and Blumenthal would reform outdated U.S. immigration laws and provide increased funding for STEM and computer science education programs. The short-term expansion of visa programs and green cards would provide immediate relief for tech companies with a backlog of openings. Additional revenues generated from this expansion would be invested in science and technology programs from primary school to university.
We urgently need to address the underlying problem of America’s widening developer deficit. Simply put, our nation cannot maintain its global technology leadership with a foreign labor dependency. Tech companies need to solve immediate needs for software developers, but the long-term solution requires a national commitment to computer science education. Passage of the I-Squared Act provides the best chance to meet those goals.