REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 14, 2001 — In the fast-paced, ever-changing world of information technology (IT), one of the primary challenges for academic institutions is keeping up with the latest software developments. Not only must they train students in the latest technology, but first their instructors must be well-versed and certified in the new technology — which can take up to 24 months. The Microsoft IT Academy Program, launching today, addresses these concerns and tackles other requests from educators.
,The demand for skilled IT workers in the U.S. continues to exceed the supply. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for 1998-2008, four of the five fastest-growing occupations in the economy are computer related, with the number of IT positions expected to grow up to 108 percent.
The Microsoft IT Academy Program offers such benefits as online or instructor-led training for faculty members at 14 targeted regional centers across the U.S. and Canada; Microsoft product licenses; academic discounts on curriculum material and certification exams; technical support; and an online community and seminars.
“We built the new IT Academy on the foundation of the Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP), which will be retired in January 2002,” explains Diana Carew, program manager of Workforce Development and Community College Relations at Microsoft. “That program was very successful and trained hundreds of thousands of students since its inception in 1994. Since the technology industry has grown so dramatically in the past few years, our customers are asking for additional resources — and faculty training was at the top of that list.”
According to Carew, educational institutions also wanted resources to help run and market their programs, and expanded technical assistance. The most popular request, second to faculty development, was early access to Microsoft’s newest technology. Getting teachers trained on new technology such as Windows XP and integrating it into their curriculum is often a long process, so helping them get ahead of that curve is one of the primary goals of the Microsoft IT Academy Program, Carew says.
The annual cost for Level I of the new program, valued at more than US$27,000, is $5,000 per school, and is open to all accredited academic post-secondary institutions and high schools. A reduced membership package is also available for high schools.
Gordon Snyder Jr., executive director of the Northeast Center for Telecommunications Technologies at Springfield Community College in Massachusetts, has been in the technology field since 1984. He believes that the Microsoft IT Academy Program offers focus, instead of simple instruction that fails to drill down into deeper knowledge. In most training programs, Snyder explains, students learn a little bit about this and a little bit about that, but they don’t really learn enough that they can go out and get a job.
“I see great value and opportunity in participating in the IT Academy — for $5,000, you’re getting a lot,” Snyder says. “A student who wants to be an IT professional is only as good as the latest technology, so it’s important that we keep our programs up to speed.”
Carla Ryba, director of Education at The Institute of Computer Management (ICM) School of Business and Medical Careers in Pittsburgh, Pa., cites instructor training as a top priority. A few years ago, ICM became the first academic institution in Pennsylvania to offer a Microsoft workforce development program. Local businesses look to ICM to address their IT staffing needs, while students depend on it for quality training and certification for IT career development.
In fact, ICM boasts a 90.2 percent job placement rate in 2001, up from 80 percent in 1999. The additional career tools and resources available from the Microsoft IT Academy Program should help that percentage rise even higher, according to Ryba. “Our reputation out there in the city is that we turn out a really good student,” she says. “Utilizing Microsoft technology is a really good tool for us to attract students to come here.”
In addition, Ryba is excited about the ability to train instructors online. “It used to be that we had to send our instructors out to be trained, but now that training can be done online, I won’t have to lose them out of the classroom, which is a huge benefit,” she says.
Hunter Hopkins, director of IT Programs at ICM, adds, “Other benefits include access to resources like TechNet and the ability for instructors to have an online forum, where they can discuss what happens when things go wrong or when things go right.”
Every month, a TechNet Plus kit is mailed to each participating school loaded with beta programs and other technical resources. (TechNet is Microsoft’s subscription information program that keeps IT professionals worldwide current on Microsoft technologies and products.) Microsoft IT Academy Program can also use an online community to network, share best practices and challenges, and view monthly seminars.
“This is extensive training,” Carew says. “It’s what educators need to know to get certified in order to meet the quality bar students expect from Microsoft-branded instruction. We’re really trying to grow awareness of technology — what’s coming and how to use it, and how to integrate it into teaching and learning.”
“Our students are bright kids who understand that they’re entering a workforce,” Hopkins says. “Our students have a more focused sense of where they want to be. They know that in a relatively short amount of time, they will come out with core competencies that will allow them to compete for a job in the workforce.”
Full program details and requirements may be found at the Microsoft IT Academy Program Web site, http://www.microsoftitacademy.com/ .