Montana universities: We can meet rising demand for computer science degrees

Former software company executive Greg Gianforte’s latest initiative is to push more Montana students to pursue computer-science degrees, which he says are in great demand and can boost the state economy, the Missoulian reports.

But can Montana’s university system respond to this demand, and quickly crank out more computer science graduates, if the desire is there on the part of students?

College officials say yes – although they caution that it’s not something that can occur overnight.

“We have some capacity,” says Brett Gunnink, dean of Montana State University’s College of Engineering, which includes the school’s computer science department. “We’re looking at, how do we grow that capacity, so we can begin to meet the demand for computer science graduates.”

Gunnink and other Montana college officials say computer science programs at MSU, Montana Tech and the University of Montana can expand to accommodate more introductory students.

“We could easily handle 50 percent more students,” says Jeff Braun, chair of the computer science department at Montana Tech in Butte. “If we had more students, we’d just add another introductory lab.”

They also applaud Gianforte’s new CodeMontana program, an online curriculum designed to get Montana high school students interested in computer programming and computer science as a career.

Braun notes that only six high schools in Montana teach computer programming.

Gianforte, a cofounder of the program, unveiled it last week at the Montana Economic Development Summit in Butte. He said 400 computer-programming jobs are available in Montana this year, but that the Montana colleges graduated only about 40 people in the field this spring.

Yet while computer-science programs at the three campuses can expand to handle an increase in beginning students, getting a lot more people through the program to graduation is tougher, officials say.

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