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Dec 12
Computer science: a missed opportunity?

computers.jpg

Javan Hansen, of North Platte, works on a computer project in a classroom at North Platte Community College. The sky’s the limit for those who decide to pursue a degree in computer science or information technology.   

Demand is at an all-time high, wages are through the roof and growth potential is unlimited. So why aren't more college students majoring in information technology and computer science? 

They are. They just aren't sticking with it. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of college students who enter an IT or CS program do so as freshmen, but about 59 percent end up leaving the field. 

It's a shame, considering what they are giving up.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts computer and IT-related jobs will top 4.4 million by 2024 because of a greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, more everyday items becoming connected to the Internet and continued demand for mobile computing. 

The  goes a step further in claiming that 81 percent of projected job openings in Nebraska could be filled by computing degrees. 

Computing job projections.jpg

And the salaries of those jobs are nothing to scoff at. The median annual wage for computer and IT occupations is about $45,000 higher than that for all other professions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

So, what's turning people away? 

"For a lot of students, information technology and computer science in college ends up being much different from what they thought it would be," said Emmanuel Luke, IT instructor at Mid-Plains Community College. "It's not what they experience on their mobile devices at home. The books are dry, the technology is challenging and, while the jobs are out there, it takes hard work and dedication to get them." 

He's also noticed that because many freshmen decide to go into the industry without researching it first, they don't have a clear understanding of what types of jobs are available, how to prepare for those jobs or how to go after them. 

"When I first started school, I didn't realize what I could do with computer science until I got to the university level," said Luke. "In my classes, I do my best to expose students to what's out there and to what they can do to be successful in the field if they want to." 

As part of that, Luke stresses the importance of degrees and certificates and put his students in touch with agencies that can provide internship opportunities. 

"I think another reason some people don't continue in the field of computing is because they don't want to relocate," said Luke. "You have to be willing to move in this industry to network and gain experience. In rural areas, there are fewer jobs in computer science, and the people who fill them don't leave those jobs. In cities, there's more turnover and opportunity for advancement." 

He encourages students from small towns to work in a computing field in two or three big cities and then return home when they are ready to move into a specialized or advanced position. 

"The money is better that way than if you just stay home and don't gain any outside experience," said Luke. "You also have to be willing to take a pay cut if it means going somewhere to get that experience. The money will increase again if you are persistent about what you want to do." 

More information about the IT and CS programs at Mid-Plains Community College is available at mpcc.edu, or by calling Luke at (308) 535-3785.

Heather Johnson
Area Communications Specialist

Heather produces and distributes press releases for the college. She began work at MPCC in 2014. Prior to that, she spent five years as the news director/web manager for Eagle Radio in North Platte. From 2009-2014 she worked as a reporter/photographer for The North Platte Telegraph. Heather has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Chadron State College.

Brent L. Cobb
McCook Community College News Bureau Coordinator​​​