[LINK] The new education "parallel universe"
Tue, 13 Jun 2000 11:35:26 +1000
By the Numbers
By Peter Behr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday , June 12, 2000
Suppose you were hungering to land one of those lucrative jobs with a
Washington area tech company and you wondered what the employers were
looking for from applicants.
You could do what Clifford Adelman did and read through 3,500 help-wanted
ads in the hometown newspaper over the course of a year, taking notes all
And you would discover that employers want to recruit people with skills in
specific, up-to-the-minute software, networking or the Web--desperately so.
But they don't seem to be clamoring for college degrees, said Adelman, a
senior research analyst at the Education Department.
Adelman's research opens a window on a flourishing but hazy "parallel
universe" outside the college realm, filled with students who are studying
how to operate Microsoft computer software or Cisco Systems network
switches or Oracle databases through courses designed by these and other
technology companies or industry groups.
The size of this universe has never been accurately measured. But it is
huge and growing. Adelman calculated that as many as 1.6 million people
worldwide passed certification tests in these technology disciplines last
year--equal to a year's output of bachelor's and associate degrees in the
Microsoft Corp. alone reported that it had awarded a total of 35,000
certificates in its training program for "certified systems engineers" as
of fall 1997. By February of this year, the total had grown to 231,000.
The existence of this other universe challenges long-standing views about
educational and job opportunities in the fastest-growing part of the
economy, Adelman said.
It creates different kinds of risks for students, who pay between $800 and
$6,500 to take the courses. The instruction lies outside governmental
accreditation programs for schools, meaning that students have no advance
assurances of the quality of instruction.
Nor are they getting anything more than a rough handle on a particular type
of software or hardware, which is likely to be obsolete in a few years.
Instead of a diploma, students must pass challenging certification programs
designed by the technology companies. Adelman called it an absolute "no
pass--no play" requirement. He took several practice precertification tests
and said that "with no difficulty, managed to flunk them all."
"Content counts," he added. "You can't fake it."
However, students who make it through and pass the certification have a
ticket into the tech world.
In the Washington region, Adelman's findings will add fuel to a debate
between college presidents and technology industry leaders about how
shortages of tech workers should be met, said Patricia McGuire, president
of Trinity College in the District and a member of a high-level group
studying the issue.
"This confirms the suspicion that many of the college presidents have that
a lot of the jobs we're being asked to prepare people for really don't
require college credentials," McGuire said.
Of the 3,544 help-wanted ads by tech firms published in The Washington Post
in 1998 and 1999 that Adelman reviewed, 2,799 did not list a requirement
for a college degree of any kind. Just 206 ads called for a bachelor's
degree in an information technology field. Another 37 specified a two-year
associate's degree and 40 required a master's degree, he said.
And the study underscores the importance of the effort by McGuire and other
education and business leaders to develop a consensus on what needs to be
taught to prepare students for technology careers, if that's the road they
choose to take.
A summary of the study has been published in the magazine Change and is
available at www.aahe.org/change/parallel universe.htm.
Peter Behr's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the
chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought.
-- Bertrand Russell