As the Legislature wraps up the 2015 session this week, various battle cries can be heard. One particular call is advocating the support of $5 million of state funding for the Engineering Initiative. The initiative intends that the money will result in 400 new software engineers per year to help fill the talent shortage gap in Utah’s technology sector.
As president of Utah’s only computer science-focused, accredited, bachelor’s degree-granting institution, I understand and agree with the need to educate more Utahns to meet the demand for skilled employees on the Silicon Slopes. Neumont University knows the demand for competent computer science professionals exceeds current supply; Neumont graduates have careers in computer science at, or soon after, graduation. Forty percent of our graduates elect to stay in Utah for their careers. Sixty percent leave the state. We’re proud of the fact that 97 percent of our graduates are employed within six months of graduation with average starting salaries at more than $63,000.
But more telling and indicative of the supply/demand problem is the fact that only 20 percent of Neumont freshmen come from the state of Utah. Eighty percent of our students come to our campus from other states — Utahns are missing a huge opportunity for employers to hire well-educated, trained engineers and to earn an above-average salary the first year out of college. Utah needs more high school graduates who are ready, interested and able to enter computer science bachelor’s degree programs.
So what is the problem?
Utah, a famously business-friendly state, has rules and practices that do not encourage citizens to prepare for, or to opt into, accredited private education. While Utah taxpayers are investing $5 million “for computer science graduates,” I believe we owe it to those graduates to use proven methods and established sources like those at a homegrown university. Let’s take advantage of the distinctive education solutions to this problem that have been in practice for over a decade at Neumont — we should level the playing field and validate every good idea, regardless of its source. For example, why does the state education system systematically prevent Utah high school students from learning about Neumont University by blocking our attendance at college fairs?
Neumont was founded in Utah, by Utahns, and funded privately to solve the precise problem this appropriation is attempting to address. Since 2004, we have graduated hundreds of young women and men who are immediately launched into professional computer science careers, many at Utah companies large and small, including: EMC, Workfront, Towers Watson, 1-800 Contacts, InContact, state government, Intermountain Healthcare and dozens of others. We have developed a distinctive and unique education, methods and intellectual property to help qualified learners achieve the objectives the state is attempting to address with this appropriation.
Ours is an approach that fits the interests of Utah students with a passion for technology. Our students are bright, but they’re eager to join companies that drive the Utah economy. Employers from across America come to Utah to recruit Neumont graduates because they have identified Neumont as a national leader in this field. Shouldn’t the state be encouraging attendance at every institution that can advance Utah education attainment levels?
I urge tech industry leaders and legislative leaders to contact us; visit Neumont at 143 South Main in Salt Lake City; learn how a Utah institution has solved a major, national problem. Perhaps after looking into Neumont’s approach, we can collaborate to make a real difference in the lives of more eligible Utahns while supporting the critical needs of the local and national companies that call Utah home.
Edward H. Levine is the president of Neumont University, an accredited institution that grants bachelor’s degrees in computer science and related disciplines in three years that immerses students in a rigorous, project-based curriculum.