• Missouri Can’t Afford Watered Down Computer Science Legislation

    Feb 19, 2018
    If Missouri wants to compete for the next Amazon HQ2, or attract another opportunity of that magnitude, we must integrate more computer science into our education system. Amazon would have supplied 50,000 high paying jobs for our region. However, Missouri has 10,000 open computing jobs today with an average annual salary of $82,000 that we can’t fill because we don’t have the qualified workforce.  The sad truth is, we never had a chance to win HQ2 because our tech workforce isn’t at the level it needs to be.

    The state legislature has to take thecomm first step by changing our K-12 curriculum requirements to allow high school students in Missouri the option to count computer science courses as a core math or science credit for graduation. This is a policy that 35 other states have adopted over the last few years to allow more students the opportunity to fit computer science courses into their schedule. 

    We were disappointed to see the provision allowing students to count computer science as a core graduation credit was removed from pending legislation during the House committee process. Groups testifying in favor of this provision included a wide range of business groups across the state, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions and Code.org, a national non-profit coalition that partners with Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google and over 500 companies advocating for more exposure to computer science in education. 

    Passing legislation to get more schools to offer computer science simply isn’t enough to be competitive. The vast majority of students who choose to take computer science as an elective course are white males, which is why other states are allowing students the option to count the courses as a core graduation credit in math or science. This will result in exposing more women and minorities to computer science, opening up new worlds of possibility and transforming lives and communities.

    The House of Representatives should add this option for students back to HB 1623 if it truly wants to pass meaningful computer science legislation that will connect employers with a qualified workforce.

  • Missouri Must Invest More in Higher Education

    Jan 25, 2018

    Workforce development is economic development.  Countless studies point to the return on investment that accompanies increased spending on higher education, and business leaders regularly note that one of the greatest barriers to growing their business is a shortage of skilled workers. Unfortunately, the Governor’s 2019 budget recommendation for the State of Missouri, which includes $68 million dollars in cuts to higher education, falls short in making our state’s workforce the priority it should be.

    Employers across the St. Louis region and the state of Missouri regularly cite a skilled workforce as critical to their companies’ ability to grow and thrive.  According to the State of the St. Louis Workforce Report released in 2017, employers’ top concern today is not government regulation or current economic conditions, but finding the right talent. At the St. Louis Regional Chamber, we hear this same concern from employers considering St. Louis as a possible location for expanding their business. They often use the concentration of people who possess an Associate’s degree or higher as a primary indicator to judge the health of the region’s economic climate.   

    The cuts to higher education threaten Missouri’s ability to compete nationally and globally. The proposed cuts would undermine our ability to provide more people a quality post-secondary education at precisely the time when it is becoming increasingly more essential both for business and individuals. Cutting investment in higher education increases college costs, primarily shifting the burden to students. It reduces critical support services at state institutions that are essential to helping students successfully complete their degrees or credentials. Moreover, it expands an already wide gap in who can afford the post-secondary credentials needed to thrive in our economy, ensuring that higher education has become a privilege of the affluent rather than an essential resource for all residents.

    Economic prosperity for individuals has become increasingly tied to their ability to obtain credentials beyond high school. New data by the Bureau of Labor statistics proves that post-secondary education is essential for finding jobs in today’s economy. At the same time, growing tuition rates and the fear of accumulating debt have discouraged a significant number of people from considering college an option. When our state budget reflects the notion that higher education is not a priority, it contributes to a narrative that suggests “college is not worth it” despite the reality of economic data suggesting the opposite.

    Investment in higher education is fundamentally an investment in the public good. While we know that higher education is essential for career and workforce preparation, its value to the public at large exists beyond that.  Higher education prepares critical thinkers, innovators, creators, entrepreneurs and change agents. This benefits all of us. Our society and our democracy is stronger because of education at all levels. Leaders across the state of Missouri must work together to prioritize what we know is essential for job creation and continued economic development: increased educational attainment. A college degree should not be considered a commodity only available to those with financial means—an alarming scenario created by the kinds of cuts to higher education proposed in the state budget.

    While we applaud a number of the Governor’s recommendations for education funding, specifically significant increases in K-12 funding as well as a $2 million increase to Access Missouri, our state’s need-based aid program. We remain concerned, however, that these increases will be insufficient if funding for higher education is not considered the priority it needs to be, if post-secondary education is out of reach for so many of Missouri’s students.

    We urge members of the General Assembly to remember that our state’s most valuable asset is its people. We can only create jobs, fill those jobs, and ensure economic opportunity for people living in Missouri if we make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable, not less so.