I was fortunate. I went to college under the G.I. Bill as it existed in the 1970s and 1980s. That GI Bill came to an end. But before it did I managed to get myself a B.S. degree in computer science and it was basically free. My GI Bill benefits largely covered my expenses, which were modest to say the least. I worked full-time, supported a family, wife, three daughters, and went to school. Then in June 1986 I was graduated from the then Franklin Pierce College. To their credit, they did a very good job. Their focus was computers in the business world and that would have been great had I any intentions of going into the business world. I did not. I was hired my the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to work on its Project Athena. My job was to computerize the laboratories at the various MIT engineering schools, and any of the other schools that showed an interest. In time the psych department showed interest. My degree did little more than get me through the door but in my favor was the fact that there were not large number of people holding the BSCS degree to be found, at least not yet. That came in time. To be clear, it is a degree for a person who fancies himself a computer programmer.
Since I left college with the BSCS degree I have programmed absolutely nothing. I learned Basic, Fortran, Cobol, Pascal, and C; used none. I was fortunate. My army career had taught me to be flexible, to learn on the fly, to adapt, to move in the direct of greatest movement. Because of the Army I had a good handle on computer hardware, its repair, how it works, etc. I had worked on telecommunications systems and radar systems, each with its own set of peculiar electronics. But to be good at either, I had to be expert of all I surveyed, which I did. What I am getting at here is just this: my technical and college education took me just so far. From that point on it was up to me to apply what I knew and learn what I did not know. Most everything I came up against at MIT were things I did not know anything about.
In the fields of engineering and electronics there are two colleges local to me here that practice a teaching style that guarantees each student a fair amount of hand-on real-life experience, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Northeastern University. Northeastern’s coop program is famous for putting its students out in the field to learn their trade and gain experience.
But what of the for profit colleges that seem to be springing up everywhere? Young people entering college for the first time typically lack one most important thing, structure. They do not have a plan, just an idea. Their idea is being massaged by these for profits that if they invest in some degree they can expect their earnings to jump dramatically.
The need for people in Information Technology is going to continue to expand for the foreseeable future. But the amount of education needed to fill the various roles varies greatly. Many jobs, that pay fairly well, can be filled with someone who has as little as two years of education in the proper areas. That might cost a person $10k total and can be had at most community colleges. The same amount of education at the University of Phoenix, by their own estimates, can cost as much as $40k. I think the prospective student needs to investigate the traditional educational path against the for-profit college path. I have a feeling that the local solution meets or exceeds the student’s need. What the for-profits seem to do a really good job of is locating the funding necessary for the student to attend their school. If that means amassing a $25k+ per year student debt then so be it.
I have been in the position of hiring people either to fill a contract or a position. A lot of things go into making such a decision, of course, but if you have two otherwise equal applicants, you fall back to the where they went to college position. I will hire the guy from Wentworth institute with his 2.9 GPA every time over the guy from Phoenix with his 4.0. Why? Wentworth understands there is nothing that can replace world experience on a resume. That is something Phoenix does not offer. The other part is, if I do not know one of the applicant’s professors I probably know someone who does and who can give me a recommendation.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in distance education, but on a limited basis. The ability of the student to interact face-to-face with his professors is invaluable and something that cannot be duplicated over the internet. I was involved with two separate distance courses through Harvard. I turned on my computer and watched a class being taught in a regular Harvard lecture hall. But that class was buttressed by section meetings that required you attend a group in person. One of the most important facilities of this sort of education was the fact that you could watch the lecture as many times as you desired until you fully understood it.
It is my belief that a good educational institution necessarily works as a not for profit organization. That says to me that is focuses all its income on bettering the college and not lining the pockets of investors.