ETTRICK, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam says a new program, created as part of Virginia’s proposal to secure its bid for Amazon’s second headquarters location, will eventually fix the shortage of tech talent in the commonwealth.

Eleven Virginia colleges and universities will be getting state funding, through the Tech Talent Investment Program, to help boost computer science related-degree programs. The goal is to graduate 31,000 students in the field over the next 20 years.  

Virginia State University is one of the schools participating. It’s one of the nation’s top producers of African American computer science graduates, school officials say. 

“Young people [will be able] to chase their dreams and be the best that they can be in their chosen field,” VSU President Dr. Makola Abdullah said. “To be able to fill our workforce here in the Commonwealth of Virginia with some of the best talent that Virginia has to offer.”

Bipartisan supported legislation from the General Assembly gives $1 billion over the course of a 20-year period to support the Tech Talent Investment Program, as long as the schools meet the performance requirements already agreed to with the state. Each school has their own separate memorandum of understanding, or agreement, with individualized requirements for how many students are expected to graduate with computer science-related degrees. 

This year, the schools will share more than $16 million. That money can be used for things to grow the programs, such as hiring faculty and equipment upgrades. 

While this program was created to help supply the local workforce needed to sustain a large company like Amazon, Gov. Northam says these graduates will also be able to support smaller businesses and start-up that he describes as “the backbone” of the economy. 

“We can educate students right here in Virginia. Then they will be able to work, live and raise their families,” Gov. Northam added.

Students, like VSU senior Cornell Johnson, say this is an exciting time to be pursuing a technology-related degree. 

“It’s more competition,” Johnson said. “But, I love it because now people are starting to understand how big, how important computer science is.” 

The public schools participating in the Virginia Tech Talent Investment Program include: Virginia Tech, George Mason University, The University of Virginia, College of William & Mary, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University, Radford University, Christopher Newport University, Virginia State University, Norfolk State University

This is just one of many computer science related initiatives going on right now in Virginia. For example, Virginia started requiring schools to teach kids computer science skills in the classroom this year.