Pure ‘Xbox’ degrees not offered in Arkansas — yet

For the thousands of incoming Arkansas freshman receiving lottery scholarships, the chances of one of them getting a degree in video game design, development or programming is next to nil, according to new research from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

However, Arkansas college officials say the report does not accurately reflect ongoing efforts to provide video gaming degree options to incoming students.

According to the study, released Aug. 16, there are 300 American colleges, universities, art and trade schools that will offer degrees in video game design, development, programming and art during the 2010-11 academic year.

Arkansas is one of eight states that will not offer such a program at any technical school, college or university in the upcoming school year, the ESA report shows.

Dr. Remzi Seker, chairman of the Computer Science Department in the College of Engineering and Information Technology at UALR, said his department offers a bachelor’s degree with a gaming option/emphasis.

"The gaming option was developed to meet the industry demand and student interest," Seker said. "UALR is sensitive to both state and national priorities as well as what students desire. We strive to offer state-of-the-art knowledge to our students and the community we serve."

Additionally, Seker said UALR recently hired a new faculty member who is an expert on gaming and intelligent control.

"We hope to add more faculty lines to this option as the economy improves," he said.

Dr. Chuck Welch, president at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, said his faculty is seeing a real desire on the part of students to have more programming and to have more instructional styles that integrate technology.

"We've added a course in a PhysEd program with Wii — its a little bit controversial, but it really is where the student demand is," Welch said. He added, "If we don't provide what they want, someone else will."

According to ESA, undergraduate schools offering game design and development programs can now be found in 42 states and the District of Columbia. California remains at the forefront of this educational field, home to 50 institutions of higher learning that offer game-related degrees, followed by New York (26), Texas (21), Illinois (17), Florida (15), Massachusetts (13), Pennsylvania (12), Michigan (10), Washington (10) and Georgia (9).

During the 2008-09 academic year, 220 schools offered such programs and more than 250 programs were available during 2009-10.

Rich Taylor, senior vice president for communications and industry affairs at the ESA, which represents computer and video game publishers, said the growing number of degree programs for this booming industry is no surprise.

"The steady increase in higher education programs is an important indicator about the expanding role computer and video games play in today's world," said Taylor.

According to ESA, the continued growth of video game programs coincides with the overall growth of the entertainment software industry. Also, public and private sector organizations in the fields of healthcare, education and business are increasingly relying on computer and video games to modernize and improve their operations.

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Today, 70% of major employers utilize interactive software and games to train employees, and more than 75% of businesses and non-profits already offering video game-based training plan to expand their usage in the next three to five years, the study says.

According to the ESA study, Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas, and Southwest Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo., are the nearest undergraduate schools outside of Arkansas with video game degree programs.

Of the surrounding states (besides Texas), Missouri colleges and universities offer the highest number of video game degree programs with six. Oklahoma offers four such programs, Tennessee has three, Louisiana has one, and Mississippi none, the study shows.

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