C Spire introduces program for students to earn degrees faster

(Courtesy photo)

Staff Writer

Twenty high school districts and community colleges in Mississippi are enabling their students to work toward an Associate’s Degree of Applied Science through the C Spire Software Development Pathway pilot program.

The program’s curriculum will be modeled from a successful private coding academy in Water Valley — Base Camp Coding Academy — that started in 2016.

“They are going to work to identify students who are interested in those courses and make sure they are aware that they can take those courses in high school,” C Spire spokesman Dave Miller said.

The main objective is to accelerate more individuals in the state at a faster pace to receive quality education as IT workers to enter the critical field.

“We’re trying to think outside the box. How do we get more programmers into the workforce sooner?” Miller asked. “The way we’re going to do that is through this pilot program which we’re undertaking with the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit.”

C Spire Software Development Pathway will begin in the 2019-2020 school year with a partnership between C Spire, Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology services company and the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education.

“There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm to make this approach a success for our state,” MSU Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education Assistant Director Shelly Hollis said. “We are using a creative, out-of-the-box approach to meet the real-world needs of students to land better jobs and for employers to have more qualified workers now.”

The three-year program will allow interested high school students to earn an associate’s degree of Applied Science after two years of specialized coursework in high school and one year in community college.

“They will be able to graduate with a certification and be able to immediately be hired and go into the workforce in computer software programming,” Miller said. “Instead of it taking two years of community college or four years at a university.”

Computer science workers are in short supply but high demand in Mississippi with nearly 1,000 open job positions right now.

“One of the challenges that Mississippi has is that a lot of young people that may take courses and do actual studies, specialize in these areas of computer science and computer programming a lot of times they leave the state because they don’t believe there are opportunities available,” Miller said.

The average salary for IT workers with qualification is nearly $70,000 a year, which is almost double the statewide average.

Research indicates there will be a shortage of over 1 million software developers in the United States by 2020.

Efforts by the C Spire Software Development Pathway program will educate and inform high school students about job opportunities in Mississippi.

“We live in a software defined world where code and the internet influence every aspect of our lives,” said C Spire CIO Carla Lewis. “Computer science, coding and software development drives innovation and creates jobs in our economy, but we need to do more now to encourage schools to offer courses, equip teachers and enable young people to develop these important skills so they can pursue these highly sought IT careers.”

According to Miller, software programming is a critical area for all businesses whether in a public entity, government agency or a private company.

“They can stay right here and get a good quality, high paying job and only have to go through one year of community college so they don’t potentially have to acquire a lot of student debt which is another issue that a lot of young people have to deal with,” Miller said.

An initial planning meeting with the Mississippi Department of Education and Mississippi Institute of Higher Learning was held in Ridgeland last Wednesday with 47 teachers, counselors, and administrators from 11 school districts and nine community colleges across the state.

Collectively, they discussed curriculum delivery methods, teacher qualifications, coursework scheduling and costs.

C Spire says it will fully fund the first year and partially fund the years following.

“We’re working with MSU and others in the private sector to fund the remaining portion that’s required for the first three years,” Miller said.

The Mississippi Department of Education has a goal to make sure that there are more than enough students in their programs who graduate with capabilities regardless if they want to pursue computer science as a career.

Participating high school districts include Booneville, Brookehaven, Gulfport, Laurel, Meridian, Starkville-Oktibbeha, Oxford, Lafayette, Newton, Lee, and Rankin counties.

Community colleges partnering with participating high school districts are Copiah-Lincoln, East Mississippi, Gulf Coast, Hinds, Itawamba, Jones, Meridian, Northeast and Northwest.

“We are hopeful that after this three year pilot program that the state will pick this up and say ‘Hey we’re going to implement this statewide,’ “ Miller said.