TUPELO • To fill computer science jobs in Mississippi, telecom company C Spire and Mississippi State University will partner with schools this year to create a pathway for high school students to receive a computer science associates degree.

Barry Emison, dean of career and technical education at ICC, said the college is developing an Associates of Applied Science degree plan with an additional four courses recommended by the state, to create a software development degree program for high school students.

Twenty Mississippi high schools and community colleges have agreed to participate in the program, which is set to begin during the 2019-20 school year, including in Lee County. Itawamba Community College will work with students from Mooreville and Saltillo high schools.

“We are going to recruit students who are interested in what is actually going to be a four-year path, and we are going to start in the ninth grade so they get the appropriate high school classes that will prepare them to take the college-level courses as juniors and seniors,” Emison said.

Emison said students will take college-level software development and programming classes at the college with one faculty member five days per week, while also taking two dual credit classes per semester over two years to graduate high school with eight college credits.

The Pathways program will use a custom curriculum based on the successful private coding academy Base Camp in Water Valley.

Shelly Hollis, assistant director of the MSU Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education, which is a partner in developing the program, said students will earn recognized industry certifications in web design, Python and SQL programming.

“The idea is that through two years of coursework in high school, they would be on track to graduate after only one year of community college, graduate with an associates degree after one year and be able to enter the workforce as a junior-level software developer,” Hollis said.

At the end of January, forty-seven teachers, counselors and administrators from 11 school districts and nine community colleges met in Ridgeland with officials from the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi Institute of Higher Learning to discuss logistics for the pilot program.

The goal is to equip 93 percent more Mississippi graduates with the skills to start at entry-level software development jobs after a year at community college.

“In Mississippi, we are not graduating and retaining enough computer science students who are focusing on computer software development to keep up with the job demand in the state,” said C Spire rep Dave Miller.

Through the program, 30 teachers will receive specialized training and more than 150 students will have access to computer science job opportunities after completing the program. Miller said there are currently almost 1,000 unfilled job openings in Mississippi due to a shortage of qualified IT workers.

“These are high quality, high-paying jobs. Usually the entry-level positions start out some between $60,000 and $65,000, when we are talking about technology companies,” Miller said.

A series of recruitment tours at high schools and community colleges will begin later this month in Lee, Lafayette, Prentiss and Oktibbeha counties. C Spire will fully fund the program for the first year and partially for the second and third years.

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