Governor touts computer coding progress, sees gender gap challenge

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 100 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted a 12% year-over-year enrollment increase in 9-12 grade computer science courses as more students, teachers and resource partners are expanding the first-term governor’s computer coding initiative.

In a press conference at the state Capitol, Hutchinson touted some impressive statistics for the first-of-its-kind program that is earning recognition nationally. The governor said the program, now in its third year, has:

  • 6,184 students statewide;
  • 39% participation rate among minorities;
  • 26% participation rate among females;
  • 225 coding teachers, up from 27 in year one; and
  • 85% of public schools participating

Hutchinson said he was proud of the initiative’s acceleration. He noted that the minority participation rate was encouraging, but work remains to increase the female participation rate.

“I believe we’ve broken the racial barrier,” he said. “But the numbers show there is a gender gap in increasing our girls to take coding.”

He also announced that ARCodeKids is creating a program to include 12 adults who each will receive a $6,000 scholarship to attend the 12-week Arkansas Coding Academy. The scholarships will provide adult Arkansans who already are in the workforce with new skills in a high-need area. Four of the 12 scholarships have been designated for employees of Arkansas state government — one from each of the state’s four congressional districts. The four state employees selected will receive paid leave from the state during the academy.

The governor said all state agencies need advanced computer help, particularly larger agencies who must manage data and adapt software to specific needs.

Hutchinson has been touting the state’s computer coding program to outside of state companies, as well as existing businesses. He said a pipeline is being created and recognized by tech firms, accelerator programs, and Fortune 500 companies.

“Wal-Mart located a significant part of their online business in Silicon Valley,” he said. “I hope that never happens again in the future.”

Mary Condit, director of the Arkansas Coding Academy which is housed at the University of Central Arkansas, said there are some low-cost living and low-cost of doing business advantages in Arkansas, but human capital is gaining traction.

“I think if we’re talking about the talent pool we’re creating, we have two things that make us really competitive. One, we have really great university systems that put out quality graduates in computer science. The other thing is short-form training, like the Arkansas Coding Academy, for someone who is continuously having new positions open up – the Coding Academy is a great thing to feed those programs,” she said.

Dave Wengel, founder of the nonprofit ARCodeKids, and Condit said that jobs boards in the computer field in currently have Arkansas-based jobs in the six-figure range, as high as $200,000, as well as a number of closer to entry level jobs that start in the $40,000-$60,000 range.

ARCodeKids runs a tech web site — ARTechJobs.com – which aggregates job openings in the information technology field in an attempt to match employers and potential employees.

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