$1 billion in state funding to Virginia universities aimed at creating workers for Amazon, other tech firms

Christopher Newport University is one of 11 public colleges that will produce more computer science graduates with the help of state funding. (By Cnucaptain - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

ETTRICK — To fulfill Amazon’s need for workers with advanced technology skills as well as those of other tech employers, the state is investing $1 billion over 20 years at Virginia colleges and universities

The state will spend the money on schools that have committed to producing a certain number of graduates in computer science-related fields. Although the effort is driven largely by the needs of Amazon’s future headquarters, the state already had a shortage of tech workers, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday at Virginia State University, one of the schools receiving part of the funding.

“Graduates will fill jobs at hundreds of companies around Virginia, including Amazon,” Northam said. “This helps our tech business of all sizes and strengthens our ability to support the rapidly growing tech industry.”

The $1 billion investment is intended to produce 31,000 more graduates with computer science-related degrees at 11 public colleges over 20 years. 

“Strategic state investments in talent and infrastructure will ensure that Amazon’s chosen Virginia location provides a fertile environment to sustainably support HQ2’s rapid growth as well as the growth of other tech employers,” Virginia wrote in its pitch for the highly-sought Amazon HQ2 project.

The schools made individual agreements with the state to produce specific numbers of computer science-related graduates:

  • Virginia Tech: 16,235
  • Christopher Newport University: 392
  • Old Dominion University: 765
  • George Mason University: 7,605
  • Virginia State University: 186
  • James Madison University: 467
  • University of Virginia: 3,416
  • Radford University: 394
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: 722
  • William & Mary: 930
  • Norfolk State University: 126

This year, schools will get a share of $16.6 million included in the state budget. Schools can use the money for almost anything, from hiring and training staff to building new facilities.

Northam emphasized that the chosen schools are meant to capture a diverse range of students, including historically black colleges.

“The 11 colleges are both large and small, so if you’re a student, whatever kind of institution you are seeking, you can find a (computer science program),” he said. “I want everyone in Virginia to have the opportunity for a good education and a good job.”

VSU is already one of the nation’s top producers of black computer scientists and the leading HBCU in the state when it comes to computer science degrees, according to University President Makola Abdullah. VSU had 60 computer science-related graduates last year, according to SCHEV. Norfolk State, the only other public HBCU, had 59.

Right now, computer science degrees make up about 2% of the total degrees awarded at Virginia’s public four-year schools, according to the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia. The same number of graduates get degrees like accounting and political science.

According to SCHEV, GMU and Tech produce the most bachelor’s degree in subjects like computer science, information sciences, math, statistics and computer engineering. 

Last school year, 1,032 GMU graduates received one of those degrees and 1,148 students at Tech did the same.