According to Comparitech’s “2019 US Cybersecurity Salary & Employment Study,” which was published last month, Virginia ranks as one of the hottest states for cybersecurity professionals – both from a job opportunity and salary standpoint. The Comparitech study found that there are currently 14,180 individuals employed in a cybersecurity role with an average annual salary of $111,790. Over the next five years the number of cybersecurity jobs in the Old Dominion State is expected to grow by more than 32%.

With the growing demand for cybersecurity and other high-tech jobs, 11 universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia were promised just under $1 billion in state funding to grow their computer science programs. Governor Ralph Northam announced that the investment of this tech talent pipeline could create 31,000 new computer science graduates over the next 20 years.

The Tech Talent Investment Program is being developed to benefit students and tech employers throughout the state, and it grew out of Virginia’s proposal to Amazon, which is locating its second headquarters in Northern Virginia. The performance-based initiative is also designed to create at least 25,000 new bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and related fields, while funding for the program was already provided in the Virginia budget approved earlier this year.

“This initiative is an investment in Virginians,” said Governor Northam, via a statement. “Virginia’s tech sector will continue booming only if we can train the workforce those jobs require. We are educating a workforce that will fill jobs at hundreds of tech companies around the Commonwealth, including at Amazon, helping boost our economy and quality of life in every corner of Virginia.”

Governor Northam approved $16.6 million for the Tech Talent Investment Program in the state budget, but the allocations to the individual universities had not previously been announced. Virginia Tech and George Mason University will receive the largest share in the first round of funding.

Virginia Tech is committed to producing 5,911 bachelor’s degrees and 10,324 master’s degrees by 2039, and it will receive $5.4 million for the bachelor’s program and $1.8 million for master’s program in 2020.

George Mason University is committed to producing 2,277 additional bachelor’s degrees and 5,328 master’s degrees by 2039 – with allocated TTIP funding allocated for 2020 to reach $2.3 million for the bachelor’s program and $972,914 for the master’s program.

Both schools had pledged to expand their tech degree programs and to build new facilities in response to Amazon’s HQ2 announcement last year. George Mason University reportedly has a target goal to more than double the size of its computer science degree program by 2024, but online sources have suggested that could be overly ambitious given the funding the university has received to date. It was awarded $7.5 million in the 2019 budget to replace an old building on its Arlington campus to construct the 400,000 square-foot Institute for Digital InnovAtion (IDIA).

At the same time Virginia Tech was allocated $168 million for its planned Innovation Campus, and that has raised questions about the school receiving “preferential treatment” – something state representatives have denied.

Nine other schools will receive funds in the first round, and are committed to producing the following number of degrees: The University of Virginia: 3,416 bachelor’s degrees; William & Mary: 930 bachelor’s degrees; Old Dominion University: 765 bachelor’s degrees; Virginia Commonwealth University: 722 bachelor’s degrees; James Madison University: 467 bachelor’s degrees; Radford University: 394 bachelor’s degrees; Christopher Newport University: 392 bachelor’s degrees; Virginia State University: 186 bachelor’s degrees; and Norfolk State University: 126 bachelor’s degrees.

“These 11 institutions, and others that will follow, demonstrate the qualities that make Virginia’s higher education system among the best in the nation: innovation, responsiveness, alignment with state needs and performance,” said Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Amazon’s role in all this can’t be understated. The company has pledged to create 40,000 high-paying jobs in exchange for $750 million worth of state tax incentives.

“As the technology industry in the Richmond region and across the Commonwealth continues to grow, so do our workforce needs,” added Nick Serfass, executive director of the Richmond Technology Council. “This investment demonstrates Virginia’s commitment to continuing the growth of tech businesses and strengthening the talent and education of its workforce.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.