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In Arkansas, there were more than 2,000 open computing jobs in 2014, but only 272 computer-science college graduates to help fill the demand.

Considering that the average salary for a computing occupation in Arkansas is $68,933--nearly twice the state average--it is clear that we are not adequately preparing our students to pursue the best job opportunities in the 21st century digital economy.

Computing skills in fact are becoming increasingly central to jobs across industries. For example, today's auto mechanics regularly diagnose and repair cars, drawing on technology as well as mechanical skills. Health care, banking, and retailing all depend on computing--and we need a future work force that is computer-literate.

My Little Rock-based company, ClearPointe, has been an advocate for the advancement of IT skills in Arkansas since it began in 1993. Technology has become part of the fabric of our lives, impacting how we work, communicate, and learn. Though not everyone will pursue careers in technology, the ability to use a computer is becoming just as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Computing is no longer a special skill that only needs to be mastered by IT professionals.

Given the central importance of computing to our nation's economy and way of life, it is distressing that only one in four U.S. schools teaches any computer-science courses. We must do better.

Arkansas has already taken several positive steps. We are one of 28 states that count computer science as a core credit toward high school graduation. Gov. Asa Hutchison recognizes the importance of computer-science education, and our state is moving toward developing strong computer-science standards for K-12 education.

But we also need the support of the federal government. Our state--including business, community and education leaders--should support an effort in Congress to provide $250 million in federal funding specifically focused on K-12 computer-science education in the upcoming budget. These funds would go to states and allow us to fund computer-science initiatives and priorities that we establish here.

This infusion of federal funding could support computer-science education in as many as 52,500 classrooms nationwide, reaching 3.6 million students in the coming year. Unlike previous funding efforts, the current proposal focuses entirely on computer science as one critical subject--as opposed to lumping it in with other science and math programs.

If we fail to address the current deficiency in computer-science education, the consequences for our nation will be severe. We are at risk of falling further behind other nations that have prioritized the teaching of computer science.

Countries such as England and Australia have made computer science a compulsory part of the curriculum, and Germany has gone as far as to make computer science mandatory at all grade levels. China too has made computer science a fundamental school subject.

While states and communities in the U.S. should maintain the flexibility to match local needs, values and priorities in their educational systems, every American school should be able to provide computer-science classes if it chooses to do so.

If steps are not taken to close the computer-science skills gap, we will see even greater disruptions in our economy and job market. It is projected that there will be over 1 million computing job openings by 2024--and millions of other jobs will require computer skills. Awareness, action and federal funding will help fill vacant jobs and crack open a wealth of opportunity and security for the next generation of job-seekers.

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Corinne Johnson of Little Rock is the executive vice president of marketing and compliance at ClearPointe.

Editorial on 04/07/2016

Print Headline: Fill the skills gap

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  • Nodmcm
    April 7, 2016 at 10:56 a.m.

    So what is the salary of computer-science majors in Dallas, or Austin, or San Jose? Its a lot higher than in Little Rock, right? Also, what is the quality-of-life index in San Jose? Any professional sports teams to go see after work in the Bay Area? How about restaurants to spend that salary at, any good eats in San Francisco, or Austin? What about schools for the little ones, do they have any good schools in Austin or the Bay Area? Rather have your kid go to U of A or Stanford? You see, when folks work hard for a tough degree like computer science, and then get a job paying the big bucks, often they want other quality-of-life advantages. If you get sick, do hospitals in central Arkansas compare with those in Palo Alto? How about internet broadband availability, does Conway compare to Palo Alto? Little Rock, I think we have a problem.

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