Studying computer science in Montana prepares graduates to enter an exciting, lucrative, and high-demand career. However, the state faces critical shortages. The state’s fast-growing technology industry means the number of jobs in the sector often exceeds the number of skilled professionals prepared to enter them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that, as of May 2017, the number of computer and mathematical professionals in Montana totaled 8,150.
The BLS projects that employment in computer and information technology occupations nationwide will grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, which is yet another reason the state welcomes students seeking degrees from Montana computer science schools. Given this projected surge, the Treasure State will no doubt play a critical role in filling the more than 557,000 new jobs projected to emerge in this field nationwide by 2026.
The state’s fast-growing technology industry means the number of jobs in the sector often exceeds the number of skilled professionals prepared to enter them.
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Higher Education in Montana
Montana is home to more than 25 colleges and universities, including 16 that comprise the Montana University System (MUS). MUS enrolls nearly 50,000 learners statewide and includes schools within both the Montana State University and University of Montana networks. The state also makes two-year degrees and professional certificates available through its seven tribal colleges. For students seeking smaller schools for their computer science degree, Montana is home to private universities like Carroll College, Rocky Mountain College, and the University of Great Falls.
In addition to campus-based programs that engage students in face-to-face instruction, some of the state’s schools also offer robust online programs in computer science. You can earn an online computer science degree in Montana from an institution within the MUS, which boasts nearly 100 online programs and more than 700 online courses each semester. The ease, convenience, and affordability of online learning attracts those who need to balance personal and professional demands with their academic pursuits.
Although Montana ranks 44th in the nation for population, nearly one-third of its residents age 25 or older hold a bachelor’s degree, according to recent Census Bureau data. Despite its relatively small number of residents, Montana demonstrates an appreciation for higher education.
Computer Science Careers in Montana
Careers in computer science and information technology are on the rise across the country. The BLS projects that employment in the field will grow 13% between 2016 and 2026, nearly twice as fast as the projected average growth of all occupations over that same time. This is largely due to the increased demand for expertise in cloud computing, information security, and gathering and securely storing data.
Cities like Bozeman and Great Falls are known for their high concentrations of these opportunities. The same is true of Helena, the state capital, where graduates of online computer science programs in Montana can find well-paying employment in state agencies that require this kind of expertise to ensure statewide operations function smoothly.
Median Salary for Computer Science Careers by Degree
How Much do Computer Scientists Make in Montana?
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Computer Science Programs in Montana
Many computer science programs in Montana deliver traditional on-campus classroom instruction. For example, Montana State University awards undergraduate degrees in computer science through its Gianforte School of Computing. The program encourages critical thinking and builds problem-solving skills to improve one’s quality of life through technology.
Several computer science colleges in Montana also award graduate degrees. The University of Montana and Montana State both offer master’s programs for those who would like to delve deeper into the field and pursue further education.
While most computer science schools in Montana offer on-campus instruction, there is ample opportunity to enroll in courses online. This can give students flexibility to balance the demands of school with other responsibilities. Furthermore, this blended approach to your studies allows you to build even deeper connections with your professors and classmates. For example, the University of Montana’s School of Extended & Lifelong Learning offers online classes in computer fluency, introduction to computer modeling, and web development.
The Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits the computer science programs within the Montana State University and University of Montana networks. It also accredits the program at Carroll College. ABET accreditation denotes which computer science programs in Montana have met the quality standards necessary to prepare graduates to excel in the workforce.
Types of Computer Science Degrees
Students can choose among a variety of traditional, hybrid, and online computer science programs in Montana. While a bachelor’s degree in computer science offers a standard route toward professional careers, many students pursue an associate degree to train for employment as a computer support specialist or technician. For career ambitions in specialties such as systems analysis, students often continue on for graduate education. Doctoral students typically pursue academic careers or advanced research roles in industry.
Many students earn a two-year associate degree to establish a strong foundation for future studies in a four-year program. In computer science, colleges often design programs according to Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) guidelines, preparing graduates for a smooth transfer to four-year programs. Learners in online computer science programs in Montana gain a broad and affordable general introduction to the field at the associate level, while leaving open the option of continuing on for further education.
Some associate programs provide specialized training for entry-level jobs such as computer support specialists. According to CompTIA, computer support specialists, software developers, and web developers rank among the leading categories for technical occupations in Montana. Coursework covers a diverse general education core, including mathematical, physical, and design principles, as well as troubleshooting methods. The curriculum for a typical program includes introductory mathematics, logic, programming in a language such as Python or Java, and an introduction to computer architecture.
In a competitive field such as the technology industry, many students opt to pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree through hybrid or online computer science programs in Montana. Popular careers for graduates of bachelor’s programs include applications software developer, systems analyst, and network architect. Some schools, such as Montana State University, offer interdisciplinary majors to help build an in-demand skill set.
In bachelor’s programs, students learn concepts and general principles of operating systems, data structures, programming languages, and software methodology. Many programs also require a course in technical writing or business professional communication. Upper-division core coursework for the degree includes theory of algorithms, assembly language, and discrete mathematics. Electives may include game theory, computational geometry, data mining, and software testing. Prospective students should expect competitive admissions in computer science programs, and plan accordingly. Members of underrepresented groups seeking bachelor’s degrees should also make sure to investigate the possibility of scholarships tailored toward increasing representation of minorities in computer science.
Ambitious students considering supervisory roles in cutting-edge domains, such as augmented reality and blockchain technology, often find that a master’s degree can provide a competitive edge in hiring. While most workers in the field earn bachelor’s degrees, some students find that a master’s degree can open doors for a specialization in a prestigious or emerging area. Some employers may even provide tuition assistance to encourage their analysts to earn a master’s degree in data science, a field at the intersection of computer science, mathematics, and statistics.
At the master’s level, students typically complete 18-24 credits of coursework within two years, covering topics including data science, embedded systems, distributed and parallel computing, and software engineering. Most programs also require a capstone or thesis. Some schools offer accelerated one-year programs for qualifying students who can attend full time, and many colleges also offer dual degree options in engineering or other related disciplines.
For students interested in pursuing intensive specialized research, a doctoral degree provides a route to computer science careers in Montana in lucrative fields like operations research. Rigorous doctoral programs attract independent, self-motivated learners who aspire to work in research labs or advance into high-level academic tenure-track positions. Earning a Ph.D. often means students make an original research contribution to the field. Although most jobs in technology do not require a doctoral degree, graduates with a Ph.D. enjoy competitive advantages, including the highest salary potential in the field.
At the doctoral level, students complete 70-80 credits beyond the bachelor’s or master’s degree. Programs typically span five years, and coursework may include classes in bioinformatics, distributed systems, advanced network security, theory of computation, and analysis of algorithms. Ph.D. programs place less emphasis on classes, and a heavy emphasis on conducting specialized research, internships, and dissertation work according to the student’s interests.
Professional Computer Science Organizations in Montana
Joining professional computer science organizations can benefit you as a student and as a graduate. These associations help you build a network of colleagues, which is especially helpful for continued learning and job hunting. These organizations regularly host conferences to keep you up to date on the latest developments in the field, and to expose you to a variety of computer science career options. In addition, meeting others through professional organizations can prove invaluable when it comes to exploring career opportunities.
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology: As an influential scholarly and scientific association for information technology and computer science, IACSIT fosters collaboration, lifelong learning, and interdisciplinary research. Members receive conference discounts, access to professional development resources, and opportunities to participate in conference committees and editorial boards for scholarly journals. Students also receive discounted memberships.
- Association for Computing Machinery: Established in 1947, the prestigious ACM serves as the leading scientific and educational society for computing communities. As the world’s largest computing organization with nearly 100,000 members, ACM offers conferences and publications with global reach. Member benefits include targeted career resources, newsletter and journal subscriptions, and access to ACM’s lifelong learning center.
- Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Computer Society: Founded in 1946, the volunteer-led IEEE computer society advances global technology leadership and collaboration. IEEE provides community services, maintains an extensive digital library of technical information, and publishes peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Exclusive benefits for members include over 200 technical conferences, a mobile-ready digital publications portal, and student scholarship opportunities.
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