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UNO, other colleges expanding computer science programs

The University of New Orleans is bracing for another possible round of budget cuts to be announced at the end of the week.  While the state deals with a billion-dollar deficit, the university is balancing the need to cut with the need to expand, especially into tech industry jobs.

At UNO, as with any campus, some know what they will do when they graduate while others do not.  But few in the computer science program worry.

Student Scott Hedrick, "I've got more work than I want."

Each year, UNO produces about one-fourth of the computer science graduates in the state, and the demand is so great that most are finding work before they graduate.

"I do research work and we have coordinated work with a software company in New York," said student Jonathan Redman.

Thanks to growth in the tech industry, fueled in part by a 35-percent tax credit for digital media and software development, there are so many job openings that many are going unfilled.  "On the one hand we have a great demand, but our schools are playing catchup," said Michael Hecht with GNO Inc.

While most students are finding as much work as they want in the computer science department, others are starting to blaze their own trails as tech entrepreneurs.

Student Scott Hedrick has formed a limited liability corporation to work in the computer industry. "It started out, let's get one contract job and see how long it will run, and now I get calls regularly," he said.

The university is now bracing for possible cuts to be announced this week, after taking a $14 million hit over the past year. "Expectations are more cuts will come, and we're trying to plan long-term strategically", said Dr. Peter Fos, university president.

Fos says the school won't do across-the- board cuts, and he will work to keep high-demand programs such as computer science and engineering fully staffed. In fact, staff in those programs may be added.  "Right now we're graduating between 80 and 90 a year, and we will have to double that to meet the need."

The UNO computer science program is expanding into high-tech security, and many of its students will stay in New Orleans.

"It's great, it's exciting to stay in your hometown and get the kind of job they deserve to have," said professor Chris Summa.

Students are excited about their future, both before and after graduation. "I couldn't be happier." said Hedrick.

UNO isn't the only university that's expanding to meet the local need for tech workers.  Tulane recently reorganized its computer science department and is once again offering a four-year degree, as well as a PhD program.  Loyola is also adding a new online degree program in cyber security, as well as a minor in computer science.

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