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Computer Science Education for a 21st Century Economy

North Dakota has received accolades as a great place to live, work and do business. Our workforce is highly engaged. Industries from agriculture and energy to the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) sector are thriving. And we have a phenomenal ecosystem of public and private sector partners committed to growing our state’s economy and supporting our students and workforce. We also have our eye on the prize: in a world where virtually every industry is being impacted by technology, we are growing our economy and helping set students up for success with a focus on computer science and cybersecurity education.

The K-20W Initiative

The jobs of today and tomorrow involve a significant emphasis on technology skills. This is why North Dakota is pursuing a comprehensive, statewide approach to computer science and cybersecurity (CCS) education and workforce training, with a goal of “Every Student. Every School. Cyber Educated.” This “K-20W” initiative (kindergarten through PhD and workforce) reflects a whole-of-government approach to helping students and businesses compete and succeed in a global economy.

Technology expertise is essential in a world where every state is competing nationally and globally for talent and capital. Regardless of career path, giving students at all grade levels access to integrated curricula, coding, robotics and similar programs creates a fun, meaningful learning experience, and it can also open the door to rewarding careers.

Economic Indicators

North Dakota was recently recognized in a Brookings Institute Report for being a center of economic vitality, described in this recent article. Indicators include wage growth of 2.3 percent a year (compared with .8 percent for the rest of the country), 80.9 percent of the state’s working-age population is working (second only to Minnesota), and GDP per capita rose at 3 percent a year, the fastest in the country, with productivity growing at a ‘sizzling’ 2.4 percent annually.

These all illustrate a strong economy and continued leadership in key sectors. But they also illustrate why we need to promote computer science and cybersecurity education and training. The applications and opportunities are endless:

  • Precision agriculture relies on connected sensors and equipment to identify levels of moisture, crop growth, soil nutrients and other factors with pin-point accuracy, helping farmers be more efficient and increase production;
  • The energy industry is benefitting from technologies that are expanding our access to shale, natural gas and other natural resources while improving safety and environmental protections;
  • UAS and counter UAS efforts in the state are booming, with demonstrable benefits in everything from wind turbine inspection, to high-res crop photography (a key element in precision agriculture), to private sector and military opportunities globally.
  • Small, rapidly growing businesses like Co-Schedule and Protosthetics have chosen North Dakota because of our tech-friendly ecosystem and ability to recruit and retain talent.

Our students have every opportunity to continue to help North Dakota lead and pursue high-paying, rewarding career fields. But our challenge is clear. By the numbers:


  • Cybersecurity has virtually zero unemployment. According to Cyberseek.org there are approximately 301,873 cybersecurity job openings in the U.S., and Palo Alto Networks projects the number of cybersecurity job openings worldwide will be 6 million by 2019.

Computer Science:

  • There are more than 570,000 computing jobs open nationwide.
  • It is projected that there will be 1.4 million computer science (CS)-related jobs by 2020, yet U.S. college graduates are expected to fill less than a third of those jobs.
  • According to Code.org, the number of computer science jobs is growing at a pace two times the national average for job growth.

In North Dakota:

  • There are approximately 1,108 open computing jobs, yet we have only 117 CS graduates within the state. (Source: org)

The “K-20W” initiative team is a collaborative effort with nearly 40 public and private sector partners. The team is committed to providing resources and training to teachers, administrators and students. Planting seeds of curiosity around technology and nurturing those interests from grade school through high school and post-secondary training will help create a 21st century technology workforce.

Strategic Partners in Computer Science Education

That’s why we’ve built strategic alliances with the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), Microsoft TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), Code.org, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). These partnerships amplify our ability to reach rural and urban areas of the state with computer and cyber science training, certification and classroom resources.

The Department of Public Instruction is facilitating the creation of PK-12 computer science standards at every grade level that will include cybersecurity – the first of its kind in the nation. And our higher education institutions are creating new degree and apprenticeship opportunities. For example, a partnership between Bismarck State College and Palo Alto Networks will grow the college’s Cybersecurity and Computer Networks Program.

We recognize that to compete locally – and globally – we need to create a technology-literate workforce for the 21st century economy.

North Dakota is not only a great place to live, work and do business – it’s leading the way in innovative education. Our future-facing approach will help our students and communities thrive well into the future.

You may also be interested in what Utah is doing in this arena. The just-announced Amazon Future Engineer program aims to reach 10 million underprivileged students with computer science education and training.

Shawn Riley is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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