The Distinct Advantage of Earning an Online MSCS in Texas: Why Location Matters — Even for Distance Learners

The Texas flag on a clear, windy day.

There are many reasons to pursue an Online M.S. in Computer Science (MSCS):

  • Online computer science master's degrees offer prospective students the flexibility to continue working full-time while studying.
  • The ROI of an online master's in computer science can be higher than that of a comparable degree earned on campus.
  • Students can attend prestigious programs without relocating.
  • Students in online MSCS programs may accrue less debt because they're able to pay for a portion of those programs out of pocket with wages earned while still in school.

Today, some of the best engineering and technology schools offer online Master of Science in Computer Science programs accessible to students worldwide. Students studying computer science online can learn with experts in the field, connect with industry leaders, network with their peers and—most importantly—earn the same degree as their counterparts who come to campus for classes. Insatiably curious and passionate developers, programmers, and engineers who want to advance in computer science careers may not give geography a second thought when researching online graduate programs.

And yet, they should.

As much as the widespread availability of online degrees has significantly broadened students' options, there are still significant benefits to earning a computer science master's from institutions in states where technology companies and tech jobs are plentiful. People think California is the place to be for computer scientists and tech entrepreneurs, but Texas is well on its way to becoming the United States' next technology hub.

Consider SMU Lyle School of Engineering's Online Master of Science in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) program. No matter where they live, students who meet the admissions requirements have access to an on-the-ground network in a state where the tech sector employs millions, and there are tens of thousands of openings for computer scientists, artificial intelligence specialists, and other qualified tech experts. The Lyle School of Engineering is a global leader in engineering education and research and has even more cachet in Texas.

So why don't more distance learners think about geography when choosing their master's programs? We answer this question and look more closely at the benefits of earning an online M.S. in Computer Science below.

Why Students Don't Consider Location When Choosing an Online MSCS

It's not always obvious what role, if any, geography can play in an online master's program—particularly when programs let students meet degree requirements entirely online, making location a non-issue for enrollment eligibility. Many students choose online master's programs in AI specifically to attend rigorous or prestigious programs without relocating. Their priorities may also include flexibility, cost and financial aid, prerequisite requirements, GRE requirements, and the quality of the curriculum and coursework. It's unusual for guides to online graduate programs to even mention the potential merits of program location.

It's short-sighted, however, to think of technology master's programs as being entirely divorced from geography, given that location is such a major driver in tech job growth. Until 2017, just five cities accounted for more than 90 percent of the growth in innovation sector jobs. That year, the number of technology jobs in Texas nearly doubled. In 2018, the state moved into the number two spot for total technology employment (behind California) with almost one million tech industry workers. Earning an online master's degree from a college or university in one of these high-growth tech hubs can benefit your career in various ways, as outlined below.

Why You Should Think About Location When Choosing an Online M.S. in Computer Science Program

More than half of online bachelor's degree students choose programs at accredited universities within 50 miles of their homes. It's safe to assume that graduate students do, too, because there are obvious benefits to living local to an online M.S. in Computer Science program. Being within driving distance of campus makes it easier to secure internships, attend job fairs, network with professors and peers, and connect with industry leaders who are program alumni. Local distance learners get the best of both worlds: a flexible student experience plus easy access to career-boosting resources. There's also the fact that name recognition and regional reputation are more considerable assets than many graduate students realize.

Even MSCS students who aren't within driving distance can benefit from a school's proximity to and relationships with employers. People assume that online computer science degree programs aren't plugged in to what's happening on and around campus, but that's not true.

Online programs headquartered in or near technology hubs are more likely to have strong ties to local big-name technology companies and R&D laboratories. Professors and faculty are more likely to engage in high-value research and support distance learners' efforts to get involved in that research. They also build the MSCS curriculum around real-world employer demand for high-value skills in disciplines like artificial intelligence. And graduates, whether they studied online or on campus, can tap into an alumni network populated by people who work for the kinds of elite companies and innovative startups that are especially attractive to MSCS holders.

The bottom line is that certain parts of the country have more openings for MSCS graduates. Enrolling in an online MSCS program headquartered in a state like Texas—where tech employment is booming—is a smart move because it can give you a leg up in your post-graduation job search. Online students at SMU Lyle graduate with a built-in network of alumni located in tech hubs like Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Distance learners who look for work in Texas after graduation benefit from SMU Lyle's reputation for producing experts in computer science, artificial intelligence, and related fields like information technology, data science, and network security. An MSCS-AI from SMU Lyle Online opens many doors in Silicon Prairie and Silicon Hills.

How You Will Benefit from Location Pursuing an Online M.S. in Computer Science at SMU Lyle

SMU Lyle's online MSCS-AI program is one of the best online master's programs in artificial intelligence in Texas and the U.S. for a reason. According to LaborInsight's analysis of SMU alumni, 88 percent of the school's MSCS grads find relevant employment after graduation—most of them in Texas. The top employers of SMU Lyle Online MSCS grads include:

  • Amazon
  • Citi
  • Deloitte
  • Dialexa
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Oracle
  • Paycom
  • Raytheon

Each of the above companies has locations in Austin, Houston, Irving, Dallas, or San Antonio, which isn't surprising. Both big tech firms and tech workers have moved away from high-cost areas like San Francisco and San Jose to cities that incentivize innovation. More than 17,000 technology firms call the state home, and Texas is now the second-best state in the U.S. for master's-level computer science jobs. The Big Five technology firms all have major operations in Texas, which also ranks second nationally for video game development jobs and first for data center growth. Texas actually ranks ahead of California for the percentage of workers employed in computer systems design and cloud and data services jobs. There is also record-breaking patent output and startup entrepreneurship happening at Texas institutions like Southern Methodist University.

Earning an Online MSCS with AI Specialization from SMU Lyle School of Engineering can help you take advantage of Texas' rapidly growing technology sector. As of May 2021, over 220k Texas-based job openings for software developers, computer architecture specialists, cloud computing experts, cybersecurity specialists, and other technologists required a master's degree. Close to 84,000 of those asked that applicants have both a graduate degree and artificial intelligence and Machine Learning skills—particularly for positions in and around Dallas and Austin where AI skills are in demand. It is also worth considering that these jobs routinely pay more than $100,000 in a state where the median income is about $31,000—and the cost of living is lower than the national average.

What If I Want to Get my MSCS from SMU Lyle Online But I Don't Live in Texas?

Graduating from an MSCS program headquartered in a thriving technology hub can make it easier to advance in a tech career—even if you don't live anywhere near campus. SMU Lyle is a nationally ranked research institution with a network that extends across the country. Distance learners enrolled in the online M.S. in Computer Science program build strong connections with alumni and experts in the technology industry in Dallas, around Texas, and throughout the U.S. The relationships fostered in the computer science master's program for distance learners are every bit as deep and as valuable as those sparked on campus. In other words, just because you don't live in Texas doesn't mean you can't take advantage of all it has to offer.

But if after earning your MSCS-AI, you decide to follow in the footsteps of tech entrepreneurs and companies like Wayfair, HP, and Oracle, you will have a built-in local network waiting for you in Texas. You will also be in one of the states with the most on-site and remote artificial intelligence jobs. The chances are good that the number of positions for computer scientists and artificial intelligence specialists in the state will increase as more tech companies move from California to Texas. Further, the Texas Artificial Intelligence Center of Excellence supports the integration of AI, robotic process automation, natural language processing, computer vision, and contact center technologies in state government.

You can take advantage of the geographical disruptions taking place in tech with a degree like SMU Lyle Online's M.S. in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization. The 10-course, 20-month program puts the on-campus student experience online in a flexible career-focused program that will give you the resources you need to launch a career in AI in Texas or anywhere in the world. Apply now.