Graduates Ato Jackson-Kuofie, left, and Jordan Lutz pose at graduation with computer science online program coordinator, Padma Akkaraju. Photo by Chris Becerra.

“This program changed my life,” Nicklas Knudson said of Oregon State University’s online degree program in computer science. Launched in the summer of 2012, the program is still the only one in the nation designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another area.

“As tech companies were struggling to find trained professionals, I saw we had an opportunity to quickly realign college graduates who are unemployed or underemployed to highly-paid computing jobs,” said Terri Fiez, head of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, who spearheaded the program in collaboration with Oregon State University’s top-ranked Ecampus.

Chart by According to a recent survey by the Technology Councils of North America, the entire nation is experiencing a shortage of people trained in computer science. Two-thirds of technology company executives in North America agreed there is a talent shortage. The crisis is particularly acute in Oregon where 86 percent of executives reported there is a shortage of talent in a survey conducted by the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO).

A local supply of technical talent is essential to the growth of Oregon’s high-tech industries, according to Skip Newberry, TAO president. Indeed, one of the key strategies in the 2014 Oregon Business Plan is to better connect education with high-paying jobs in STEM fields including computer science.  

The additional students from the online program will allow Oregon State to double the yearly number of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science by the end of this year. Although the 755 students admitted to the online program are from all over the world, over half of them are from Oregon, Washington and California (23 percent currently live in Oregon).

“OSU’s one-year online degree program in computer science is working to help fill some of the gaps by offering students and professionals a flexible way to obtain valuable skills and increase their marketability within the local tech industry,” Newberry said.

Businesses are noticing that there is something special about the post-baccalaureate students who are older than typical college graduates (the median age is 29 years) and have a variety of previous backgrounds including journalism, psychology, political science, chemistry, history, engineering, and law.

“Tech companies are looking for candidates with some business experience and a diverse set of skills to complement technical skills, and many of the students who are completing OSU’s program have a variety of experiences and skills they can draw upon professionally,” Newberry said.

The program is also having personal impact. Oregon State’s program allowed Nicklas Knudson to reinvent his life. He intended to go to medical school when he started on his biology degree, but changed his mind along the way. After working for two years as a biologist he decided to return to his early interest in computer science.

“I thought about getting a master’s degree in computer science but I couldn’t find any program that would accept my biology degree. The alternative was to go back for another four years to get a second bachelor’s. This program was a godsend for me because it allowed me to take what I already knew and bridge it to something that I was really passionate about,” he said.

Knudson had several job offers upon graduation and chose the one he was most excited about —working with the Army Corps of Engineers on control systems for hydroelectric power plants along the Columbia River.

Matt Staten talk about how OSU's online degree program changed his life.

Graduate Matt Staten was ecstatic when he had a job offer from Huron Consulting Group in Lake Oswego, Ore. before he even graduated from the program. He couldn’t quite believe he no longer had to piece together odd jobs to make a living. He had struggled to find work in his first field of anthropology but always had an interest in computer science.  (View video.)

Demands of family and work are common for students in the online degree program which can also be completed at a slower pace by following a two-, three-, or four-year track plan. With an established career in business and two small children, Bental Wong said the flexibility of Oregon State’s online program allowed him to return to school to carry out his dream of becoming a software engineer. Wong had three job offers immediately after graduating and is now part of a small team at Hewlett Packard in Vancouver, Wash. creating innovative software for HP printers.

 “I found my true calling,” Wong said.

“It’s so rewarding to hear about the successes of our students. We are proud of the impact this program is having on the lives of our students and the tech industry,” Fiez said.