LITTLE ROCK – Since the legislature enacted a law in 2015 that requires Arkansas high schools to offer computer science, the number of students in computer classes has increased by 460 percent.
In the 2014-2015 school year there were 1,104 students in computer science classes and now there are 6,184, according to the state Education Department. The number of teachers qualified in computer science has grown from 27 to 225.
The governor made it a priority to expand computer science offerings and the legislature approved Act 187 of 2015 to require all public high schools and charter schools to offer the courses. The act also created a task force charged with recommending standards for the new courses.
Enrollment in computer science classes grew by 12 percent over last year. Among minority students the participation rate is 39 percent and among females it is 26 percent. The governor and educators said that the gender gap in computer classes should be eliminated and that they would continue working to increase the number of females in computer coding classes.
At the same time that the growth in student enrollment was announced, the governor and state education officials announced that 12 adults would receive scholarships worth $6,000 at the Arkansas Coding Academy at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Four of the scholarships will go to state employees – one from each Congressional district. They can get paid leave while taking coding classes and must agree to continue working for the state for an additional two years.
It is public policy to enhance computer literacy among Arkansas students and the state’s workforce, for several reasons. High-tech industries will be more likely to locate in Arkansas if there is a well trained workforce in place. Our brightest graduates are more likely to live in Arkansas if they can find well-paid jobs here, rather than having to move out of state.
In a related effort, legislators and state officials have been working to provide broadband access to all public schools. Arkansas is one of six states to meet recommended national standards for data transmission. In fact, Arkansas capacity is double the recommended standard. The new network delivers data 40 times faster than the previous one.
New Nursing Program
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, in conjunction with two local hospitals, announced the beginning of an accelerated nursing program that will begin in the fall of 2018. It is open to students who already have a bachelor’s degree. They can obtain a nursing degree in 15 months. The program will accept 32 students per semester.
There is a nursing shortage nationwide, due in part to the aging of the current generation of nurses. The dean of the UAFS college of health sciences said that the average nurse is 56 years old.
Nursing schools struggle to meet the demand from potential students because of a lack of faculty and constrained budgets, she said. The nursing shortage is not confined to Arkansas, but is a nationwide challenge. The UAFS program will be similar to 270 nursing programs in all other states.
The American Association of Colleges of Nurses reported that last year 64,000 applicants were turned down by nursing programs because of a lack of faculty or slots.