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President's Blog: From the Heart

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Ohio Reprograms Its Future

By Eric F. Spina

(This op-ed appeared in the Dayton Daily News on Jan. 8, 2020.)

It’s no secret that some Ohio companies outsource programming and software engineering to other time zones around the world. That’s largely because they can’t find enough highly skilled professionals here.

How big is the problem?

Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted says if you type “computer science” in Ohio’s database of available positions, 9,000 jobs pop up. We could literally populate a city the size of Oakwood with programmers, computer systems analysts, IT project managers, cyber security analysts and Web developers — if we had them.

I applaud Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Chancellor Randy Gardner for bolstering the Choose Ohio First scholarship program that will provide more than $20 million in scholarship money to 35 Ohio colleges and universities, including the University of Dayton, over the next five years to close the skills gap.

Ohio high school graduates entering college next fall will be among the beneficiaries of the state’s forward-thinking strategy to educate students for high-demand jobs in computer science and related fields. Without these scholarships, some of these students would not be able to attend college. As Ohio’s leaders create a pathway for more students from every zip code to realize the American dream of a college degree, they’re re-imagining a stronger economic future for the state — one where our young people stay because the job opportunities are simply too good to pass up.

The University of Dayton, Wright State University, Sinclair Community College and Central State University together are receiving approximately $4.5 million in scholarship funds to award to qualified students, creating a pipeline of talented professionals for high-tech, high-paying jobs in the Miami Valley.

For our part, UD has already taken significant steps to "move the needle." Consider:

• We will match our nearly $3 million in scholarship money from the state, doubling the impact of the Choose Ohio First program.

• Computer science, with a 167 percent increase in majors since 2010, is already our hottest major. The enrollment surge prompted the Board of Trustees to approve the complete transformation of the former Music-Theatre Building into a home for the growing computer science department. Choose Ohio First Scholars will learn in this newly renovated space, beginning next January.

• Through a “Work-to-School” program, the University of Dayton Research Institute hires entry-level software technicians who pursue their degrees while they work full-time with senior developers to create new software technologies for companies like LexisNexis, Emerson and Honda as well as the Army Research Laboratory and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

• Finally, the UD-Sinclair Academy, with pathways for bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and electronic and computer engineering technology, is fertile ground for recruitment of Choose Ohio First Scholars. Students in the Academy take classes on our campus their final two years, and they have access to UD’s internships, research opportunities, and academic advisers from day one. The best part: they’re earning a college degree at half the cost of a traditional four-year degree even before any financial awards are provided. The initiative is opening doors for students from various racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds, including many first-generation college students. It’s a model for the future.

A 2019 study by IBM is sobering. “In the next three years, as many as 120 million workers in the world's 12 largest economies may need to be retrained or reskilled as a result of artificial intelligence and intelligent automation.”

That’s a clarion call for change. In Ohio, we hear it — and we are responding.

— Eric F. Spina is president of the University of Dayton, the largest private university in Ohio.

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