Time to Take the Leap into Tech?
Local universities offer flexible, affordable and potentially very lucrative options for a career change.
Looking for a career that averages more than twice the median annual wage of all other occupations and eclipses them all in projected growth? Look to computer and information technology.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.” In May 2021, the bureau found that the median average wage for computer and information technology occupations was $97,430, vs. $45,760 for all other occupations.
Another great thing about tech is there is such a wide array of both educational and job opportunities. Based on the selection of tech-related courses and tracks available at some local institutions of higher education, programs range in timeframe from one day to four years. The field literally reaches from outer space to below the earth’s surface.
However, for those who are preparing to launch careers, or perhaps change them, two constants emerge: The tech field is open to anyone with the interest and a little aptitude, and a large number of well-paying jobs are available across the tech spectrum.
“Our program has students of all kinds,” said Ralph Russo, program director of the Information Technology Program at Tulane University. “We have continuing education, people changing careers, and adult education, along with the freshmen.”
Tulane’s offerings concentrate in the realm of information technology (IT), but Russo pointed out that even that specialization “crosses virtually all fields. There are IT jobs in banking, energy, media, gaming, legal, retail, government and nonprofits. Just about anything you’re doing in life right now has an IT component.”
For individuals considering IT careers, prior experience in a business or industry may give them an advantage if they return to that field with their newly acquired tech skills.
“Tech is a great option for anyone,” said Kelvin Gipson, director of workforce IT at Delgado Community College. “The top-paying jobs in Louisiana right now are tech-based.”
Gipson sees Delgado’s tech-focused workforce training as an opportunity to build community. “Tech-related jobs provide a good salary, which diminishes the economic wealth gap in New Orleans. And these jobs are more resilient in times of economic downturn. Tech is a way to grow a stronger workforce in this region.”
The accessibility of tech training is an asset emphasized by Tina Tinney, chancellor of Nunez Community College. “People can upskill or reskill in a short period of time with a very limited investment, and make themselves very marketable in the workforce,” she noted. “Tech provides a lot of opportunities for people to enter into career paths.”
Tinney also pointed out that both tech training and tech careers “offer a lot more flexibility as to what you can study and where and when, and where you can work when you do enter the workforce.”
As a four-year school with graduate programs, Tulane offers the most advanced tech-related training and degrees. A bachelor of science degree includes 15 specialized courses among the 40 total required; tuition is $1,788 per course, though many students qualify for a 20% discount, as well as other possible financial aid.
A master of science degree requires 10 or 11 courses, while graduate certificates require four to six courses, some of which can then be applied towards an MS. Tuition for these offerings is $3,474 per course, again with discounts and aid potentially available.
Within its IT program, Tulane has four main areas of concentration: Cybersecurity, Application Development, Product and Program Support, and Enterprise Systems and Cloud.
“We have a pretty wide range of programs for students to choose from,” Russo said, adding that many of the courses are created in consultation with partners in industry. “I ask these executives, ‘If a student learns this, does it help in your world?’ This leads to applied learning that helps when they apply for that first job.”
Tulane’s programs include more than 400 lab experiences, and the university has even created a fictitious company to offer students real infrastructure and real problems that need to be solved. As students progress, they move on to projects for real world companies and university departments.
In the four-year context, Tulane students get what Russo called “the three-legged stool of academic education, applied learning, and experiences like internships and volunteerism.” Along with the bachelor’s and master’s degrees, students can earn a variety of industry-specific certifications in the programs.
Coming out of school, Russo said that students can expect starting salaries in excess of $50,000 per year. Those with master’s degrees and in-demand certifications “can be looking at six figures pretty early,” he added. “Companies are lining up to hire our graduates.”
Russo noted the IT fields most in demand include “cloud services, governance and process, product owners and managers, data-related [fields] like analytics and AI [artificial intelligence], and cybersecurity,” where he noted, “there are many more slots there than people available to fill them.”
Delgado’s Gipson agreed that cloud storage and cybersecurity provide many opportunities.
“As long as we have computers, we’re going to have cyber-attacks,” he pointed out. And along with AI, “virtual reality is going to be an area of huge demand.”
Along with classroom courses, some of Delgado’s programs include internships, an aspect that the college is actively expanding. While the two-year associate’s degree costs around $17,000 (though considerable student aid is often available), Delgado offers certification-only options that can cost as little as $399. Timeframes for these range from four days to eight to 12 weeks.
“College is not for everyone,” Gipson observed, adding, “The tech-based industry certifications will get you the interview. Once you get in with a company, they may help pay for a degree.”
Unsure if tech is a fit? Delgado offers resources to assist people in deciding if they want to enter the tech field, including podcasts, webinars and even its own YouTube channel. The college will even connect people interested in tech careers with graduates who have entered the workforce already to provide first-hand insights on the career opportunities.
Gipson estimated that students who graduate with an associate’s degree can expect starting salaries in the $45,000 to $50,000 range for positions like help desks and tech support, while those in the higher-demand fields like cybersecurity can anticipate starting off around $60,000 to $70,000, especially if they complete an internship as part of their studies.
“[We offer] an affordable way to get into the tech industry,” concurred Delgado’s Gipson, “and the future workforce in New Orleans lies in tech-related positions.”
While the first two schools are most heavily focused on information technology, Nunez’s courses encompass a much wider spectrum within the tech field.
“We have 24 programs of study that are career- and tech-oriented pathways,” said Chancellor Tinney. Nunez also offers two-year degrees and specific certifications.
Nunez has drawn on its St. Bernard Parish location to create one particularly high-demand program: Aerospace Manufacturing, for which it partners with Boeing at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. The only program of its kind in Louisiana, it involves one year of classroom and technical training followed by a second-year, paid internship at Boeing. More than 50 students have completed the program and entered the workforce, with average starting salaries of about $52,000.
Another region-specific track is Nunez’s Coastal Studies GIS program, a new offering that will graduate its first class this year. Similarly, with broadband access about to expand throughout Louisiana following an influx of federal funding, Nunez has begun offering a fiber optics technician program. Their “drone academy” leads to an FAA pilot’s license for flying drones, a skill currently in demand with local industries ranging from real estate to film to oil and gas.
“What I love about these programs is that most of the skills are transferable within industries,” Tinney said. “For example, the aerospace skills are relevant in almost any mode of transportation. This means you have multiple avenues for employment once you get that credential.”
Industry certification programs may range from a few days to a few weeks. Fees vary accordingly, with some programs costing as little as $500. Full tuition is $4,500 per year, but Tinney emphasized that “most students qualify for some kind of financial aid. We look first to fund our students.”
For those who complete their associate’s degree, she added, “most of them come out making in excess of $50,000 for a two-year investment, with very little debt.”