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Virginia seeks larger pipeline of computer science degrees

Plans for more high-tech talent come a year after the state landed new Amazon headquarters.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) speaks in November 2018 at a news conference announcing Amazon's location for a Northern Virginia headquarters. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) disclosed plans Thursday to help public universities produce 31,000 more degrees in computer science and related fields over the next two decades, an initiative that aims to help meet growing demand for a high-tech workforce as the state prepares for a new Amazon headquarters in Arlington.

With the announcement, Northam spelled out targets for 11 universities to contribute to the tech-degree pipeline. The state has already approved funding to support the measure, with $16.6 million for the first year.

Virginia Tech plans to add 5,911 bachelor’s degrees and 10,324 master’s degrees beyond what it would otherwise produce in 20 years, Northam said in a news release. George Mason University plans to add 2,277 bachelor’s degrees and 5,328 master’s degrees, and the University of Virginia plans to add 3,416 bachelor’s degrees. Those three schools account for more than 80 percent of the growth in tech degrees envisioned by state officials.

Virginia Tech plans to develop what it calls an “innovation campus” for graduate students in Alexandria, near the Amazon project, and George Mason plans to expand its Arlington operations.

“Virginia’s tech sector will continue booming only if we can train the workforce those jobs require,” Northam said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, we are educating a workforce that will fill jobs at hundreds of tech companies around the Commonwealth, including at Amazon, helping boost our economy and quality of life in every corner of Virginia.”

Participating universities will receive various amounts of state funding in the first year. For example, Norfolk State University is in line for $136,000, Virginia Tech for $7.3 million. Those sums are projected to grow over time.

George Mason said the agreements will eventually yield $235 million in additional state funding, with its annual master’s degree total effectively tripling the current level and its annual bachelor’s degree output growing by a third. George Mason plans to provide $125 million to help meet the goals.

“Mason’s strategic role in the Tech Talent Investment Program confirms our standing as a significant producer of diverse tech talent in Virginia,” George Mason’s interim president, Anne Holton, said in a statement.

The governor’s office also spelled out targets for eight other universities to expand bachelor’s degrees in computer science and related fields over the next 20 years:

  • College of William & Mary: 930
  • Old Dominion University: 765
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: 722
  • James Madison University: 467
  • Radford University: 394
  • Christopher Newport University: 392
  • Virginia State University: 186
  • Norfolk State University: 126

Virginia won a multistate competition last fall to land a new Amazon headquarters. As part of its winning package, the state pledged to invest in tech education. Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.