ATLANTA -- Georgia universities are turning out only about a third of the computer technology graduates needed each year, contributing to huge shortages in the work place.
So the Board of Regents agreed Wednesday to launch new programs at University System of Georgia schools to aid an industry that has an estimated 350,000 vacancies nationwide.
"The information technology shortage is an economic development issue that is not only impacting Georgia, but nearly every state in the nation," said Chancellor Stephen R. Portch. "The state that shapes an effective response to this person-and-brainpower shortage will have the single most dominant edge in the economic development area."
A report by the system's academic affairs and development offices said the number of computer science graduates nationwide has plummeted from 48,000 in 1984 to 26,000 this year.
Georgia reflects a national trend, with the system's colleges and universities producing about 1,100 graduates in the information technology fields, compared with an estimated demand of 2,500 to 3,000 openings.
A typical computer programmer's annual wages -- currently about $70,000 -- are jumping 13 percent a year and far higher in the hottest niches, the report noted. Signing bonuses of $20,000 are not uncommon and stock options are available as well.
Such financial packages make it difficult for small businesses to compete for programmers, the report said.
University systems across the country had no way of foreseeing the tremendous growth in computer industry jobs, said James Muyskens, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.
"There are so many jobs today that were not even thought of five years ago," Mr. Muyskens said. "We couldn't possibly imagine the explosion in this area. There is a sense of urgency because things are changing so fast."
System officials have budgeted $1.6 million to upgrade information technology programs at several schools.
For instance, Clayton College and State University in Morrow will offer one-, two-, and four-year computer programs that will include certification in specific types of software, such as Microsoft's.
Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta will offer bachelor's degrees aimed at meeting work-force needs in the wireless telecommunications industry.
Kennesaw State University will have a master's degree in information systems.
Valdosta State University is developing a consortium with Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton and Coastal Georgia Community College in Brunswick to offer computer programs, and has formed a partnership with Goldleaf Technologies in Hahira to produce programmers specifically for their business. Goldleaf Technologies provides electronic banking software.
"Georgia is incredibly rich in technology infrastructure," said Richard Skinner, president of Clayton State and chairman of a national task force studying the programmer shortage. "We will capitalize on this technology, the willingness of companies to work with us, and on our ability to hear, understand and act on companies' needs.
"There is no reason for us to lag in producing graduates who can master these emerging information technology fields which are so central to Georgia. The state is providing us with many of the resources we need to do our work. It's time to perform and produce."
Virtually every school in the university system offers computer programs of some type.