Power Surge: Why Expanding Computer Science at UT Will Expand the Texas Economy
Computer science is about to ramp up in a big way at The University of Texas, and the Texas economy is poised to reap some impressive rewards as a result. As construction begins on the first phase of the new home for UT’s Department of Computer Science — the nation’s largest and most diverse top-10 computer science program — it’s a good time to take stock of the department’s considerable impact on the state of Texas.
Nationwide, the field of computer science is driving a radical transformation of science, engineering, medicine, national security, and popular culture. Computer science now supports or enables scientific advancements of every kind.
The transformation has been rapid and pervasive, with billion-dollar industries growing out of work that is taking place in university labs. Think Amazon. And Google. At these giants, and countless other companies across the economic spectrum, computer scientists are there with the core innovations that drive the knowledge-based economy.
Even more telling, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that computer science is the fastest-growing job market for science and engineering degree holders. The demand for its graduates across all sectors of the economy significantly outstrips supply.
The Department of Computer Science is a major contributor to this revolution. The National Research Council and the Academic Ranking of World Universities agree that UT has the eighth-best program in the country. To put that in perspective, consider that there is not a stronger computer science department within 1,000 miles of Austin. The department graduates about 200 computer scientists annually, more than any other top-10 computer science department in the U.S. Each year the department’s honors program, the Turing Scholars, recruits 50 new students who otherwise would almost certainly have left Texas to attend top programs elsewhere, such as Stanford, MIT, and UC Berkeley.
But there is always room for improvement, and clearly, increasing the number of UT’s computer science graduates will cause ripples far beyond the Forty Acres. Ray Perryman of the Perryman Group, an economics consulting firm, says two-thirds of the department’s graduates choose to stay in Texas, where each individual has an annual economic impact of $1.3 million and accounts for 5.7 permanent jobs.
When it opens in 2012 the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex, in the former location of Taylor Hall and Chilling Station No. 2, will be home to 60 faculty (up from 43 currently), 1,400 undergraduates (up from 900), 350 graduate students (up from 250), and 50 staff. Perryman estimates that the department’s current overall contribution to the Texas economy is $8.7 billion annually. He expects program growth made possible by the $120 million Gates Complex to increase that figure 25 percent — to about $11 billion annually. That is an astounding return on investment in today’s economy, or in any economy for that matter.
“What happens in computer science is absolutely critical for the state of Texas,” Perryman says. “We have to be competitive in an emerging set of industries, not only with our peer states and larger states, but also with the entire world. And to do that we have to have a talent pool that’s second to none. A critical component of that talent pool — an essential ingredient for our ability to grow in the future — is to have a steady, large pool of high-quality computer science graduates.”
The Gates Complex and its first-phase Dell Computer Science Hall are named in honor of significant challenge grants totaling $40 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell foundation. Those generous grants, plus $57 million in UT funds, come to $97 million, which leaves $23 million to be raised to cover the total project cost of $120 million. Additional naming opportunities are available throughout the complex.
Competition for the leading visionaries in computer science is fierce, and modern research and instructional space gives a department a distinct advantage in recruiting and retaining top talent. UT’s faculty and students will enjoy modern, interactive spaces in the Gates Complex including “research clusters,” areas on each floor designed to encourage discussion and collaboration.
An investment in the Gates Complex will:
Texas ranks second only to California in the number of high-tech jobs, firms, exports, and payroll. The Department of Computer Science currently produces about one-fifth of the computer science graduates in Texas and about one-fifth of all computer science graduates from top-tier universities nationwide. By boosting those numbers even higher, the Gates Complex will help the department boost the Texas economy to new heights.
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