CSIT Partners with Grand Island Public High School

A new partnership between the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) Department of Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT) and the Grand Island Career Pathways Institute (CPI) is aimed at tackling the IT workforce deficit in Central Nebraska. This agreement establishes a dual enrollment opportunity for the UNK  CSIT Introduction to Computer Science course.

UNK dual enrollment programs are intended to meet the needs of academically advanced students, to provide enrichment for students who have special, academic, or vocational needs, or to provide technical education. Through this program, the CPI high school students who complete the Introduction to Computer Science course will receive both UNK credit and high school credit for the course. Besides costing approximately 1/3 of actual tuition and fees for the same course offered on-campus, college credits earned through dual enrollment will become part of a student’s permanent college record and can be applied toward both high school and college graduation; these credits may also be transferred to other colleges or universities.

Currently, CPI has an agreement with Central Community College in a number of career pathways, including IT. The main goal of this new agreement between UNK and CPI is to create even more opportunities for students to advance their education after high school and improve the IT employment pipeline in Central Nebraska.

"This new partnership with UNK, along with the existing relationship CPI has with Central Community College, continues to build opportunities for our students," said Dr. Robin Dexter, Grand Island Public Schools associate superintendent. "These opportunities provide a springboard for CPI students to fill much-needed IT positions in Central Nebraska and surrounding communities."

"The CSIT department at UNK has strong relationships with employers in the Central Nebraska area, such as Xpanxion and Buckle, Inc. We need more students in the region interested in pursuing CSIT degrees to help support business growth," said UNK CSIT Department Chair, Sherri Harms.

In Central Nebraska, the demand for IT jobs is growing at three times the state average. The Nebraska Workforce Trends for October 2012 discusses the ten-year outlook for occupational projections. It states: "Computer and Mathematical Occupations are expected to experience high growth of 16.94 percent, (adding 462 jobs in Central Nebraska), with half of the growth in new positions. The fastest growing occupation within this category is Software Developers of Systems Software adding 719 jobs in Nebraska and growing by 29.77 percent. Database Administrators and Network and Computer Systems Administrators are also expected to experience strong growth of 23.68 percent and 22.24 percent."  

In March 2015, President Obama announced the TechHire Initiative, a campaign that encourages businesses and communities to quickly train people for high-paying technology jobs (www.whitehouse.gov/issues/technology/techhire). Kearney is among 21 communities involved in the campaign. Through this initiative, Kearney will launch a technology incubator that will support high-growth software startups in a rural environment, bringing ideas to a low cost area with access to reasonably priced talent in rural Nebraska.

Increasing the opportunities for K-12 students to study computing is one way to ensure that students are encouraged and exposed to computing at an influential age. As a primarily agricultural area, many students are not aware of the potential for an IT career in Central Nebraska, or even what IT professionals do. IT career awareness is essential to growing the IT work force in this area.

According to Dr. Harms, the dual enrollment with Grand Island CPI is a model that UNK plans to build on. Establishing dual enrollment programs with Central Nebraska schools allows talented students to earn college credit while still in high school. This shows these students they can be successful in the IT field, and provides them with incentive to pursue an IT-related major in college, thus impacting the number of high school students with IT career awareness, the total enrollment of CSIT majors at UNK, as well as the number of IT professionals in Central Nebraska.