Roanoke College. Photo courtesy of Roanoke College.

Roanoke College students who want to pursue in-demand technology careers have new options for attending graduate school, thanks to a new partnership with Virginia Tech announced today.

The schools unveiled two programs that allow Roanoke College students to obtain a master’s degree in engineering from Virginia Tech. Students in the programs can study either computer science and applications, or computer engineering. 

The Direct to Tech program is new, and Roanoke College is the first partner school to be announced. It offers early access to the admissions process for Roanoke College seniors who have at least a 3.0 GPA, regardless of their undergraduate major.

In addition, the accelerated 4+1 program lets students earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering fields at Roanoke College, then complete an additional year at Virginia Tech for a master’s degree. Roanoke College is the eighth partner school to offer this program, which allows students to be admitted during their junior year of college and double-count their senior year toward both degrees, explained Dannette Gomez Beane, assistant vice provost of enrollment management at Virginia Tech. The accelerated 4+1 program is reserved for students with at least a 3.3 GPA.

Applicants from Roanoke College won’t have to submit test scores or pay application fees. Some prerequisite courses are required to be eligible for the degrees offered by either initiative, including classes covering programming, calculus and algorithms.

Roanoke College students who pursue graduate degrees through the Virginia Tech programs won’t be studying in Blacksburg — they’ll attend class in Northern Virginia. Virginia Tech has facilities in Falls Church but plans to move its graduate classes in computer science and computer engineering to its Innovation Campus in Alexandria in fall 2024. 

The creation of the Innovation Campus is part of a state investment to fill technology jobs in Virginia over a 20-year span. In the initial phases of the program, which was launched by former Gov. Ralph Northam in 2019, 11 colleges and universities were given funding to expand their computer science programs. The promise of the Innovation Campus is reportedly one of the major reasons Amazon chose to put roots down in Northern Virginia rather than one of the many other cities across the country that attempted to woo the e-commerce and tech giant.

Although Amazon recently announced it will pause construction on its HQ2 facilities in Northern Virginia, President Tim Sands of Virginia Tech told the school’s board of visitors this week that Amazon’s change of plans and a wave of tech industry layoffs shouldn’t affect progress of the Innovation Campus. 

Roanoke College President Frank Shushok echoed that confidence on Thursday, speaking ahead of the announcement about the graduate partnership. “There’s such a great demand for more engineers and more computer scientists,” he said. “And there’s all the indication that there will continue to be demand for the foreseeable future. We can’t go wrong in taking opportunities to provide pipelines of talented students to fill these needed jobs.” 

The two schools began discussing graduate partnership options in August. Shushok, who joined Roanoke College in July after 13 years in student affairs at Virginia Tech, said it was “easy to talk about options and merge aspirations” between the schools: He cited strong computer science and computer engineering programs at Roanoke College, plus the fact that the school was sending a lot of those students to Tech for graduate school already. 

Shushok said a big priority for Roanoke College is to support the labor force in the Roanoke Valley, and he’s optimistic about the opportunities for students in high-demand tech fields to stay in the region after college. 

He said that some students at the private liberal arts college might not have considered studying engineering or computer science before enrolling; he’s excited that those students, including the 25% of Roanoke College students who are eligible for Pell grants, have the opportunity to explore those fields.

Roanoke College offers one graduate degree on its campus in Salem, an MBA 4+1 program that will see its first group of students in May.

Lisa Rowan is education reporter for Cardinal News. She can be reached at or 540-384-1313.