It was the craziest thing.

I would be in a meeting with conservative activists in D.C., and there would be representatives of major U.S. tech firms there discussing various issues. No matter what they were for or against on any particular day, their presentation almost ended the same way – with a recruiting pitch for computer-science types to join their firms.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Hey guys, if you know of anybody  … Anybody who is qualified for these jobs … please send them our way.”

These were mind-bogglingly good jobs as well … especially for “Anybody who had the computer knowledge,” regardless of experience. I remember one saying absolute rookies started at $125,000 per year and got a big raise and a free BMW after their first year.

These were the Washington outposts of these computer giants, which means they were recruiting for some of the most important jobs imaginable – among them guiding the computers that guide our defense and intelligence efforts. And yet they were begging policy people – generally almost helpless before a keyboard – for leads on employees.

And it was not just them. According to the Code.org, there are nearly 600,000 computing jobs unfilled in the U.S. and fewer than 43,000 graduating nationwide to take those spots.

Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOcasio-Cortez on call to run for president: ‘How about … no’ GOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Amazon workers in Staten Island launching campaign to unionize MORE and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpActivists highlight Trump ties to foreign autocrats in hotel light display Jose Canseco pitches Trump for chief of staff: ‘Worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday’ Dershowitz: Mueller's report will contain 'sins' but no 'impeachable offense' MORE complain about H1B visas taking jobs from Americans, but when it comes to computer science, we would be lost without them.  We simply don’t produce enough computer science graduates to meet our needs – by 2024, we will have more than a million openings – and everything from general economic competitiveness to national security suffers.

Indeed, the role of computer scientists in national security figures only to grow in upcoming years. From weaponry to intelligence analysis to border and key asset security to espionage, computer scientists, opportunities are expanding faster than people are being trained.

What to do?

We spend money on all sorts of research areas because we understand America has to have a technological advantage to compete economically and protect itself militarily. Our schools – from college on down – have a role to play in preparing the next generation of technical professionals.

We also have millions of students leaving college with little in the way of sound job prospects but much in the way of student debt to repay. Enrollment at the University of Missouri fell dramatically after student protests over perceived “micro-aggressions” turned the campus into a national debacle last fall.

Students are realizing that the silly season is over – that if they have to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt, the college education they secure needs to measure up to the demands of the marketplace, not the doctrine of political correctness.

The good thing about computer science is that much of this work can be done without a college degree. Indeed, its future probably lies in some trade school/university amalgam that gives big tech companies the technical expertise they need and at least some of the well-rounded university background they desire.

It also could help build a new model for educating those in technical fields in a more streamlined, cost-efficient fashion.

And this could benefit precisely the students educators most want to reach. Girls who take advanced placement computer science courses in high school are 10 times more likely to pursue it in college. African-American and Latino students who study computer science in high school are seven times more likely to pursue it in college.

Some states are taking opportunities to prepare their K-12 students to move ahead with individual computer science iniatitves. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pushed through his Computer Science Initiative,  which calls for offering computer coding classes at every high school in the state. “Of all the big-ticket items we’ve dealt with this legislative session, this relatively small-ticket item may have the greatest long-term impact,” said Hutchinson after he signed the bill in 2015.

Hutchinson said the program, which fulfilled a prominent campaign promise, will give Arkansas students a leg up in competing for computer-related jobs in its region, and that appears to be the case. In neighboring Oklahoma, according to Code.org, there are 2,442 open computing jobs but only 411 computer-science graduates last year. And that’s after Gov. Mary Fallin changed education policy to allow computer science to count as a core graduation requirement.

Getting students interested in computer science at the lower levels would address this unseriousness head on. Students would come to college with a clear idea of what they could become four years later. In many cases, they could have jobs lined up.

It would return state universities to their missions – to prepare a class of educated professionals to work in and lead their communities. It would return students to the notion of seeing college not as a place to spend four years having your intellectual excursions validated, but as a place to learn something that will produce income for them and benefit for society.


McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. He is a former senior writer for The Heritage Foundation and former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.