AI education

An ongoing worry in businesses around the world is that the explosive growth and adoption of generative AI is rapidly outpacing the availability of skilled AI talent.

In a study by Skillsoft, a survey of 5,700 global IT professionals late last year found that AI and machine learning are the biggest focus areas for enterprises but that 43% rated the skills within their company as low. In addition, a third of IT leaders are struggling to find qualified talent.

IBM-owned Red Hat found in a similar study that 72% of 300 IT leaders in the UK cited an urgent need to close the skills gap in AI, from understanding large language models (LLMs) to AI text-to-speech, to generative AI.

There are multiple ways that skills gap can be narrowed, including through training current employees or companies that offer training and education. IT companies like Google, IBM and Amazon are all developing programs to expand the AI workforce.

In addition, businesses are looking to universities and colleges to teach the ins and outs of AI to students who can then bring those capabilities into the workplace, and many of those institutions are rolling out degree programs to meet the demand.

Where are the Best Degrees?

Amid this rising sea of AI-related degrees available at U.S. institutions, researchers with software developer services provider Vention wanted to find out which degrees give students the greatest return when they get out into an AI working world that is thirsty for their talent and knowledge.

The company already knew about the need. Vention in December released its own study, finding that 96% of tech CEOs and decision-makers surveyed said AI would be a critical part of their business success this year and that almost 70% “pointed to sourcing specialized software engineers as their primary challenge for adopting the technology.”

Almost three-quarters of scaling companies and more than two-thirds of mature organizations said they needed seven or more full-time developers to meet their needs, underscoring “the growing importance of robust software development teams that have AI expertise.”

Analyzing graduate employment data from the U.S. Education Department, Vention said in a new report this week that the best-paying and most employable computer science bachelor’s degree comes from California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, followed by Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Trinity University in Texas and Clarkson University in New York.

AI Skills Can Bring a Healthy Income

According to Vention’s study, students coming out of the California institution saw median earnings of $181,838 four years after graduating, while those from Wake Forest saw a median salary of $114,622. Trinity’s median earnings came in at $108,840 and Clarkson at $104,005, with Knox College rounding out the top five at $95,399.

The numbers surprised Mark Karasu, Vention’s chief marketing officer.

“We were utterly astonished to discover so many universities, whether public or private, across so many different states, that produce clearly outstanding graduates,” Karasu said in a statement. “At this rate, they probably form the future of AI, if you will.”

The software development company used the Education Department’s field-of-study data from 2018 to 2019 and 2019 to 2020 school years, gleaned from the College Scorecard platform. The researchers narrowed the search to degrees for two fields, computer science and computer and information sciences and then focused on graduates who were four years into their careers after completing their programs.

“This aims to reflect the fact that these degrees offer high employment security,” they wrote.

A Broad Array of Choices

They then combined the lists for the two degree programs to come up with the final list. In all, programs from 23 universities and colleges made the list, and they showed a wide range in the median earnings for graduates. They ranged from those for California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo graduates to the $46,372 from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The schools on the list were scattered across the United States and included such names as Baylor University in Texas, South Dakota State University, Jackson State University in Mississippi and Bryant University in Rhode Island.

Two campuses at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey – the Florham and Metropolitan campuses – came in at 21 and 22, both with a median earnings at $58,629.

Vention researchers also compared these degrees with other fields of study that have 100% employment rates. Those degrees that get an AI career going lead to 56% higher salaries four years after graduation. Alumni from those others fields can earn an average of $54,882 per year after the first four years, while graduates from AI-related programs earn an average of $85,686, the study found.

Karasu said the goal of the study was to help those looking to get into the AI field make informed choices was looking for a school to attend.

“It also helps AI employers know that a candidate with these universities on their CV will be snapped up by a competitor soon enough,” he said. “Not only that, but they would also be ready to pay them more than graduates from other degrees. Our advice to hiring managers is to think carefully before skipping any of these college grads.”