Growing up as the son of a scientist, I learned the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education at an early age. My father was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, and nearly every year, I received a chemistry set for Christmas to spur my interest in science and math.
Yet today, across sectors and around the country, Americaís most innovative companies are facing a national challenge in finding the high-skilled workers they need to compete, particularly in fields like computer science. If lawmakers want our nation to succeed and sustain our global competitiveness, itís time to ensure top companies can fill their job openings with U.S. talent.
Dec. 9 is the start of national Computer Science Education Week, running through Dec. 15.
As the United States celebrates this important week, we are proud to partner with Code.org to support the Hour of Code campaign, with the goal of introducing 10 million students to computer science.
Our hope for this week is that lawmakers will refocus on the common-sense steps needed to train and inspire the innovators of tomorrow. This is a great opportunity for legislators, teachers, parents and educators to inspire students to experience computer science.
Computer science education is the foundation for many high-paying jobs today and those that will be created in the future. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that there will be approximately 122,000 new job openings in the United States each year through the end of this decade requiring at least a bachelorís degree in computer science, yet our universities are producing just over 50,000 bachelorís degrees annually. To maintain U.S. competitiveness and innovation, it is imperative that our nationís youth have access to the education and skills training needed to adequately prepare for these jobs.
Yet our current education system is not keeping pace with the changing needs of the workplace and does not adequately provide the skills American students need to obtain jobs in computer science fields, particularly in communities that have historically been underserved. The lack of emphasis on computer science in high school is concerning as our nation seeks to keep pace with our global competitors. Of the more than 42,000 high schools in the United States, only 3,249 are even certified to teach Advanced Placement computer science courses.
Computer science courses in K-12 education are also missing from the national landscape. Currently, only 15 states allow high-school computer classes to count toward graduation requirements. Microsoft and our partners are working closely with state leaders to increase the number of states that allow computer science to count as a math or science credit toward high-school graduation requirements.
High-skilled immigration reform can also play an important role in funding STEM education initiatives across the United States. By increasing the number of high-skilled visas and green cards and requiring employers to invest in our nationís STEM pipeline, we will be able to create a privately financed fund for states to strengthen STEM education, including computer science. By passing legislation that includes a dedicated funding stream for STEM education, Congress can provide additional access to education and training opportunities for Americans in preparation for high-paying jobs in these critical fields.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.