The epidemic of massive college debt is sweeping the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the average Class of 2014 graduate with student-loan debt has to pay back some $33,000.” This burden falls disproportionately on our nation’s lowest-income families, who carry debt that averages 70% of their annual income — even after factoring in grants and financial aid. With college enrollment rates for low-income students lagging 30% behind those of their more affluent peers, it is impossible to deny that the cost of college is a significant deterrent for these students and their families. We believe that our students’ ability to program proficiently by the time they receive their high school diplomas presents a unique, empowering solution to this pervasive problem.
The idea that people interested in computer science don’t “need” to go to college has gained steady traction. But with a mission to graduate 100% of scholars from the college or university of their choice, we ask ourselves the critical question: why does this have to be a binary decision? “We see coding as the means by which our students can do both,” explains Director of Computer Programming Instruction Ryan York. “It is an opportunity toafford a world-class education — not skip one.” With the skills of entry-level programmers by the time they graduate from high school, our scholars will have the unique ability to work as freelance programmers in college, if necessary or desirable.
The computer science job market is still unsaturated, meaning jobs exist for our students to fill while in school. The U.S. Department of Labor has estimated that 136,000 jobs in computer science will be added each year. Currently, only 40,000 Computer Science degrees are awarded annually. At this rate, in a decade’s time, there will be 1 million more jobs than certified applicants.
Furthermore, these jobs are reliably lucrative, especially in contrast to traditional work-study jobs that college students might otherwise gravitate towards in an effort to help cover expenses. The average hourly rate for a computer programmer ranges dramatically based on skill sets, but even the most conservative estimates range from $20-$30/hour. Given the average annual college budget for tuition, boarding, classes, books, etc. is $22,000, a college student could make their way through college debt-free working — at most — 20 hours a week.
Undertaking this type of relevant, high-paying part-time work will enable our students to simultaneously build professional experience and reap the quantitative and qualitative benefits of a college education. We teach coding for many reasons — including honing critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. That it provides our scholars with an innovative way to help cover the costs of higher education — well, now we’re talking.