Colorado Succeeds Members Champion Computer Science at the Capitol

A Colorado Succeeds-backed bill that would significantly bolster computer science and tech education in Colorado recently passed its first hurdle in the House Education Committee. The business community turned out in force to support HB-1184, the Expanding Computer Science Education bill. Their efforts helped ensure strong bipartisan passage by a 11-2 vote.

Succeeds Members Tom Brinegar and Melissa Risteff support computer science legislation at the capitol
Colorado Succeeds Members Tom Brinegar and Melissa Risteff advocate for computer science education legislation at the Capitol.

The business owners who testified, active members and partners of Colorado Succeeds, stressed that all students need to become computer and technologically literate, because technology permeates every field. Workers lacking those skills will be at an enormous disadvantage in the coming years, and could eventually become displaced by technology and virtually unemployable.

“Technology is really becoming a medium and a language that we need across all job sectors,” said Melissa Risteff, CEO of Couragion, a company that helps expose students to technology careers and partners with Colorado Succeeds. “This is not just talking about the technology or the IT career cluster. This is really the fact that we need technology in all our career clusters.”

HB-1184 has broad bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican. The bill has several key components:

  • Incorporates technology skills into Colorado’s current content standards, which are slated to be revised by 2018.
  • Creates a publicly available and voluntary resource bank for schools and districts interested in computer science. This bank of materials will provide an easy one-stop-shop for educators for computer science projects, assignments, and programs. And,
  • Creates a list of industry experts interested in co-teaching computer science and technology courses to the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.

Tom Brinegar, Chief Financial Officer of tech firm PEAK Resources, Inc., punctuated the need for more robust computer science curriculum by citing some stark statistics: Colorado has 13,500 unfilled jobs computer science-related fields. Yet in 2014, just 668 students graduated from state colleges and universities with computer science degrees.

Colorado Succeeds Computer Science graphic

And these are not low-level, menial jobs. Many offer salaries that can reach six figures.

Brinegar, a member of Colorado Succeeds’ Board of Advisors, also stressed that “all Colorado students deserve relevant, in-demand skills that will increase their self-reliance and ability to compete for the top jobs in the state.”

Other business leaders who testified in support of the bill said they are willing and eager to help schools and districts close the state’s technology education gap. The younger students are when they start learning computer science, the better for everyone, they said.

And as several witnesses noted, more robust computer science and computer literacy offerings would enhance options for students who might seek educational pathways outside the traditional four-year college structure.

Jim Deters, CEO and Founder of Galvanize, describes his company as “a 21st century vocational school.” Galvanize teaches people to write code, learn data science and data engineering, and holds workshops on a range of technology issues.

Inequities in computer science education access in Colorado.

Deters testified that he speaks at tech conferences around the country and points out to employers that they can’t blame the education system alone for the shortage of qualified workers. In some cases, those workers are hiding in plain sight, he said.

At a recent conference, Deters said, “I asked the audience how many of you are hiring? Every single hand went up. Then I asked how many of you require some level of undergraduate or computer science degree to fill that position?” Almost everyone raised a hand.

“And then I said those of you with your hands still up are part of the problem. If we want to be more inclusive, then we have to be more creative about how we build skills in all sorts of different ways.”

Risteff from Couragion agreed with Deters, and said HB-1184, by expanding the ways students can gain technology skills, opens up more options for them.

“If you can go get a couple of industry certifications and not get a four-year bachelor degree and take on a huge amount of debt, and still make six figures, those are pathways we should continue to pursue,” she said

Colorado Succeeds Member Jennifer Landers testifies on Computer Science education bill at the Capitol
Colorado Succeeds Member Jennifer Landers with our Director of Policy, Kelly Caufield, after the hearing on computer science education legislation.

When a couple of committee members expressed skepticism about having the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) rather than the private sector run the resource bank, business leaders said that CDE is well positioned to disseminate these critical resources to all districts throughout the state.

“From a corporate standpoint we can bring some of those resources to bear, but CDE can spread this far and wide to rural counties, where people can’t walk into a Galvanize,” said Jen Landers of the Jaybird Group, a web development company and another member of Colorado Succeeds’ Board of Advisors.

That seemed to mollify concerns.

Vice President of Government Affairs
Colorado Succeeds