Microsoft Grant Enables National Expansion of Model Training Program for IT Faculty

REDMOND, Wash., March 5, 2003 Each year thousands of students enroll at U.S. community and technical colleges, hoping to acquire skills that will help them land high-paying jobs and build rewarding careers in information technology (IT). But what about the educators those students rely on to provide the state-of-the-art training they need to realize their dreams? How do faculty members keep their own skills up-to-date in such a rapidly changing field?

The Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute this year will offer the first coordinated national response to that critical question. The Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institutecreated by Microsoft, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technology (NWCET)provides opportunities for IT faculty at community and technical colleges to spend a week each summer learning about new technologies, interacting directly with leaders in the IT industry, sharing best practices, and networking with colleagues from other schools in their region.

Successfully tested in Washington state beginning in 1999 and duplicated last year in Texas, this innovative IT faculty training program is expanding in 2003 to include regional institutes in 10 states, which will draw educators from 350 schools, representing slightly less than a third of the nations 1,151 community and technical colleges. The program will expand again in 2005 to include regional institutes for IT faculty in 30 states, and in all 50 states by 2006-7. When fully scaled out, the Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institutes are designed to reach 90 percent of all IT programs in community and technical colleges nationwide during a four-year cycle, which will have a positive impact on nearly 500,000 students annually. The first phase of the expansion is being financed by a $1.3 million grant from Microsoft.

“Microsoft understands the key role that community college faculty play in training and developing our nations IT workforce,”
says Bruce Brooks, director of Microsoft Community Affairs.
“We recognize that the best way to provide up-to-date training to students is to ensure that faculty has access to advanced training and the skills that the market is demanding.”

Currently there is a gap of 18-24 months between the time when businesses adopt a new technology and when community and technical colleges begin to teach it. According to Duncan Burgess, director of the Educator-to-Educator Institute for the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technology at Bellevue Community College, that gap is not due to outdated computers.

“All community colleges today have great equipmentthe schools understand the need to upgrade technology routinely, and they make the necessary investments to keep their programs viable,”
Burgess says.
“Today, the No. 1 obstacle to keeping our IT workforce competitive is faculty development, and training instructors on software that the industry is currently using.”

In its most recent study of the demand for IT workers, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) estimated that 578,711 positions would go unfilled in 2002 due to a lack of qualified workers. During the three years ITAA has evaluated the demand for IT workers, the number of unfilled jobs has remained consistent at around 50 percent of the total demand.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that eight of the 10 fastest-growing occupations between 2000 and 2010 will be computer-related. Much of that demand will come from outside the technology industry. According to ITAA, 92 percent of all current IT jobs are at non-IT companies.

Community and technical colleges account for almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States, an estimated 10 million students annually. According to Burgess, approximately 80 percent of all IT jobs now require
skills to start, rather than a four-year computer science or engineering degree, and a majority of those jobs are filled by people who receive their training at one of the nations community and technical colleges.

“The real test is whether our students get hired after they complete their program, whether they reach their goals,”
says Marc Lentini, who teaches multimedia and Web design at Highline Community College near Seattle and chairs the Washington state board for the Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute.
“If were not delivering the skills that employers are hiring for, then our students wont get the jobs. Thats really where the direct value is for our students. The Institute helps us achieve those tangible results.”

The Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute is a natural extension of Working Connections, a program created by Microsoft and the AACC in 1997 to help people from diverse and underserved populations prepare for information technology jobs. To date, Microsoft has awarded US$50 million in cash and software grants to 67 community colleges through Working Connections. The program is funded by Microsoft Community Affairs and administered by the AACC, a nonprofit organization that represents the nations community, junior and technical colleges.

Within a year of the Working Connections program’s launch, it became clear that providing state-of-the-art training for students would mean upgrading training for IT faculty as well, and a training partnership was launched. In 1999, Microsoft gave Bellevue Community College a grant to run a statewide training institute for IT faculty. Two representatives were sent from each of Washingtons 33 community and technical colleges. The following year, two week-long institutes were held: one for Washington state; and one for the schools in the Working Connections program. Educators came from all across the country, and when they returned home word about this exceptional professional development opportunity began to spread.

In 2001 Microsoft approached the AACC and the NWCET at Bellevue Community College about developing a plan to transform the Institute into a national program. In April 2002, Microsoft announced a two-year $1.3 million grant for national development of the successful Washington state IT faculty institute model. The Microsoft grant established three goals:

  1. Demonstrate in 2002 that the Washington state model could be transferred to another state, a goal that was accomplished last August when Texas held its own successful IT faculty institute.

  2. Expand the program to include IT faculty from 10 states in 2003, which will be accomplished this summer.

  3. For future expansion, make the program self-sustaining, which should be achievable through grants from other corporate sponsors.

“Maintaining a competitive IT workforce is a national imperative, and it requires a national approach,”
Brooks says.
“Thats what the Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute is all about. Well-trained instructors produce well-trained students, with the kind of skills that translate into jobs.”

Following the Washington state model, each of the regional institutes in the expanded faculty training program is designed, organized and run by participating faculty members from that region. A faculty board develops the courses, chooses the hotel and caterer, and makes sure their colleagues receive a first-class experience for the relatively low cost of $350. Each weeklong institute aims to incorporate five things:

  1. Six technical training tracks chosen by the board and based on the highest needs of faculty in each particular region. Increasingly, educators are receiving training in beta technologies that are not yet available commercially to ensure they can offer students the latest training.

  2. IT pedagogy essentially, this means bringing in people who can teach teachers to teach better. This is often most effective when the experts are other educators, who frequently have higher credibility with their colleagues.

  3. Front-line industry experts not the people from public relations and marketing, but the developers, project managers, and business managers from various companies to talk about the technologies theyre using, building and planning, and what kind of skills they are looking for in prospective employees or anticipate needing in the near future.

  4. Extensive networking sessions with colleagues.

  5. E-portal Web site for continued networking, community and collaboration after the institute ends.

“We want to scale this out so that we have one institute every year in every region, with leading edge, state-of-the-art, up-to-the-minute technology training,”
Burgess says.
“We want to make sure that what were teaching in the classroom is making students competitive.”

Burgess says community colleges fill an important niche in IT training, because they offer an affordable alternative to commercial training centers and have an open-door admissions policy that meets the needs of disadvantaged and underserved populationsboth critical components to creating a more diverse IT workforce. Community colleges cater to a variety of students: displaced workers seeking a new career; entry-level students preparing for their first serious job; new immigrants looking for a way to make a living in a new country; and people going through the welfare-to-work transition. Some need only technical training. Others require supplemental studies in math, writing and other subjects. Still others need life-skills training along with their IT courses.

According to Lentini, that range of student qualifications and needs is why teaching technical courses at a community college is so challenging, and ultimately so rewarding. Its also one reason that the Working Connections IT Faculty Development Institute is so valuable to educators.

“One challenge at community colleges is the diverse population we serve,”
Lentini says
“You walk into a classroom where eight different countries are represented, and seven of them dont have English as their primary language. Half of your students didnt complete high school. Most havent had math beyond an 8th- or 9th-grade level, and youre trying to teach them logic and programming. To the extent that instructors can come to the Institute and share techniques for how to deal with that, its invaluable. There arent many opportunities for that kind of sharing during the school year.”

Burgess agrees:
“Everyone who comes to a community college for an education has a transformational experience. No one leaves here unchanged. The same is true of educators who attend these IT faculty institutes.”

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