Innovation is the key to business success, and staying a step ahead of the competition in a digital world is a growing challenge. Hiring skilled STEM employees — particularly in computer science — is critical for a company’s success. As more and more companies lean on the expertise of computers science graduates, the shortage of qualified tech talent means the field is projected to grow 19% by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fortunately, Silicon Valley is not the only destination for computer science and R&D opportunities; the distribution of CS opportunities is more widespread than ever.
Virginia, in particular, is one of the U.S. leaders in STEM development. A report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) ranked Virginia sixth in the nation for hiring STEM workers, and the Commonwealth is fourth in the U.S. when it comes to computer and/or math workers. According to the study, Virginia trails only the nation’s most populous states of California, Texas, and New York. With the U.S. median employment for math and CS workers per state at 42,784, Virginia alone boasts around 204,991.
A report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) ranked Virginia sixth in the nation for hiring STEM workers, and the Commonwealth is fourth in the U.S. when it comes to computer and/or math workers.
Higher Education in Virginia
In October 2014, Virginia approved the Virginia Plan for Higher Education, which identified trends in the state’s higher education system and recommended steps to ensure prosperity and success. Education — and specifically in the fields of STEM and computer science — was found to be irrevocably tied to the health of the Commonwealth’s economic future. In response, Virginia made a concerted effort to grow the types of degrees and programs that best support tech talent.
Virginia’s higher education system is led by 15 regional public universities — 13 of which offer graduate programs, including eight with doctoral programs — and include the College of William and Mary, Old Dominion University, and the University of Virginia. The state also has 45 four-year private institutions and maintains more than 65 partnerships with out-of-state institutions which encourage Virginia students to learn from a distance.
Development of hybrid and online programs has augmented accessibility for many Virginians; many colleges and universities have seen annual tuition rise by more than 70% since 2002. Online delivery has countered this steady increase, providing students increased flexibility and a new, cost-effective path to earning their degree.
Programs like online computer science degrees in Virginia will continue their expansion as the state implements its higher education plan and grants more resources to both STEM and CS education. For example, in Norfolk State University’s 2016 budget, $5.35 million is earmarked for the development of four-year programs, including electronics engineering and CS; Virginia State University has set aside $3.79 million for the same programs.
Computer Science Careers in Virginia
Finding qualified tech talent is a challenge recruiters face across the country. Companies in all industries look for qualified people to fill CS roles, and demand is outpacing supply. A robust job market awaits those with CS degrees — in Virginia and elsewhere.
Employment in Virginia remains on the upswing, pulling further away from the state’s Great Recession numbers. According to the latest “State of the Commonwealth Report” by Old Dominion University, Virginia’s labor force in the fall of 2017 was at a healthy 4.4 million, the largest it has been since 1976 (the first year such data was collected).
With an awareness that STEM and CS are going to play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economic well-being, tech and R&D will be Virginia’s focus throughout the next decade. The ITIF innovation survey ranked Virginia’s 8th congressional district (Arlington County, Fairfax County) first for high-tech sector workers and fourth for computer science; Virginia’s 10th district came in fifth. Approximately 73% of all non-farming employment is based in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads.
Median Salary for Computer Science Careers by Degree
Computer Science Employers in Virginia
- Thomas & Betts Corp.: In 1958, Thomas & Betts invented the cable tie. Since then, this electronic connectors manufacturer has developed new ways to efficiently distribute electricity. CS majors who earn a degree from computer science schools in Virginia, especially those trained in product development, should find opportunity at this Roanoke-based company.
- University of Virginia: Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, this public university has 11 schools in Charlottesville (plus one in Southwest Virginia) and employs nearly 30,000 Virginians. Qualified CS professionals are needed across this academic institution, from the main UVA campus to its hospital.
- VCU Health System: As the medical campus for Virginia Commonwealth University, this healthcare provider serves residents throughout the Richmond area. In 2016, it helped over 110,000 people in need of emergency care, and 640,000 more through its outpatient clinics. Together with the university, VCU Health System is the largest employer for all of Richmond, with 22,473 total employees.
How Much do Computer Scientists Make in Virginia?
Workers skilled in CS are needed in almost every industry, such as finance, healthcare, education, and retail. Competition among companies is a big factor in determining salary ranges, as is competition among candidates. A position that requires a master’s degree, for example, may have fewer qualified candidates to choose from, and therefore may offer higher starting salaries to attract qualified candidates. States with high employment of high-tech and CS workers, like Virginia, will also have higher median wages/salaries given the health of the industry and the need to hire top-notch talent.
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Computer Science Programs in Virginia
In 2016, Virginia became the first state to add CS to its core academic requirements for K-12. This is sure to add more CS majors to the already popular college choice, which has forced colleges/universities to develop more computer science degrees to meet the growing demand. Glassdoor’s 2017 rankings of the “50 Best Jobs in America” named data scientists first, followed by development operations engineers and data engineers.
To meet the demand for CS degrees and graduates, Virginia’s higher learning institutions have created various CS programs at all levels: bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. While undergraduate programs introduce computing concepts and fundamentals like data mining, information systems, and computational thinking, advanced degrees focus on a concentration like computer networks or data science.
Though on-campus delivery is the traditional option, more schools are adding online programs. From Old Dominion University to Virginia Tech, students have a many options to pursue their computer science degree in Virginia. In fact, some of the best computer science schools in Virginia no longer offer coursework in a traditional classroom setting. Hybrid and 100% online programs fit into a student’s busy life, but they are also more affordable by eliminating some of the costs that come with on-campus attendance (e.g. transportation and, often, room and board).
One of the most important factors when selecting a school is its accreditation. In Virginia, regional accreditation is granted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which is recognized by both the Department of Education and CHEA. Many CS degrees are also ABET-accredited, a specialized accreditation for programs in applied science, computing, engineering, or engineering technology. Though this accreditation is voluntary for schools, some professions require licensure, which is only conferred if a candidate has earned an accredited degree.
Types of Computer Science Degrees
There are many types of degrees students can choose when pursuing education in computer science: associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate degree. In general, further formal education within a field results in a higher salary. In addition, some positions require a certain level of degree. For instance, many research positions or teaching positions at the university level require at least a master’s or doctorate degree. The table below features descriptions and basic data about each degree type.
An associate in computer science provides students with foundational knowledge in computer languages and programming. In addition to learning about computer systems, students will emerge with general education courses usually required by four year colleges. Graduates with an associate degree qualify for entry-level computer science positions in the job market.
Average Program Length – 2 Years
Median Salary – $32,897
A bachelor’s in computer science provides students with knowledge of operating systems, a variety of programming languages, database management, and computer systems and architecture. These programs typically require 120 credit hours of coursework and a capstone project. Many employers in the industry are increasingly hiring individuals with a bachelor’s degree.
Average Program Length – 4 Years
Median Salary – $60,835
A master’s in computer science provides students with a deeper understanding of computer systems, design, and programming languages. Some master’s programs may provide specializations for those who wish to concentrate further in a specific area. Individuals with a master’s degree typically earn a higher salary upon graduation than those with a bachelor’s.
Average Program Length – 1-2 Years
Median Salary – $104,269
A doctorate degree in computer science is designed for individuals who wish to pursue research in the field. These intensive programs often require students to narrow their field of study and design and carry out a specific research project that culminates in a dissertation. Graduates with a Ph.D in computer science often go into academia as computer science professors.
Average Program Length – 4+ Years
Median Salary – $126,744
What Schools Offer a Computer Science Degree in Virginia?
Virginia has set a goal to become the “best-educated state” by 2030, and is committed to making postsecondary education available to as many students as possible. For many, it begins with a computer science degree. Virginia has a long tradition of higher education excellence, and offers countless on-campus, hybrid, and online accredited CS degree programs. See the list below and compare.
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Professional Computer Science Organizations in Virginia
Professional organizations or associations offer members a variety of benefits. Perhaps most important, however, are the connections they facilitate among members, an especially important feature to someone who is just beginning their career. Students and recent grads gain industry insights from professional orgs, and instant go-to resources for queries on jobs, career paths, and professional development. Networking, mentorships, annual conferences, group local meetings, and CE workshops all help professional organizations advance their field and provide support to the professionals who enrich it.
- Association for Computing Machinery: Global organization of more than 100,000 members — half of which live outside the U.S. — that advocates on behalf of computing as a discipline and profession. ACM inspires dialogue and shares insight and resources with fellow computing professionals.
- Mathematical Association of America: Computer science as a discipline emerged from mathematics, therefore it’s not surprising that CS professionals hold an affinity for math. MMA promotes an understanding of mathematics as it relates and impacts society and shapes everyday lives. There are five levels of membership to choose from, each offering access to materials, news, and annual meetings.
- Computer Science Teachers Association: This organization supports K-12 computer science teachers, and is a resource for students who may earn an online computer science degree in Virginia or another state. CSTA membership also makes one a member of the Association for Computing Machinery.
Additional Computer Science Resources in Virginia
- Dictionary of Algorithms and Data Structures: Created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, this resource provides definitions for algorithms, which includes many common functions like Ackermann’s function and archetypal problems which CS students will encounter in their studies. Entries are indexed by area and type.
- Computing Research Association: Report by CRA subcommittee (Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research) on planning for graduate school with a focus on women in the field. Topics covered include the advantages of obtaining an advanced degree, choosing a graduate school for computer science and engineering (CSE), and the application process.
- Google for Education: Resource for students and educators alike to understand the power and scope of the computer science field. Through partnerships and various innovative programs, Google reaches millions by way of online activities, resources, free courses, and the latest reports on the current state of CS education.