Because virtually all of today's information technology is computer-driven, there is a huge demand for computer software engineers in just about any field a college-bound high school student can name.
"A computer science degree will make you highly marketable no matter what your field of interest may be," says Wayne Dyksen, associate department head for Purdue University's Department of Computer Sciences. "Computer programming skills are critical not just in the traditional industries like aerospace and telecommunications, but also in finance, medicine, and law."
Dyksen knows what he's talking about. Last year, 150 companies came to Purdue's West Lafayette campus in search of qualified applicants with computer-related degrees, and his department had just 50 signed up for interviews through the university's placement center.
"Many of these firms were looking to fill dozens and in some cases even hundreds of positions," Dyksen says. "There are far more jobs than there are graduates. Computer scientists can choose the type of work they would like to do and the place they'd like to do it."
The same is true for the two other Purdue schools that offer computer-related degrees; the Schools of Engineering and the School of Technology. Placement rates at for all three Purdue programs are averaging better than 97 percent, and several disciplines boasted 100 percent placement this past year.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that systems analysts and computer engineers are among the fastest growing occupations in the country. In 1994, approximately 678,000 people were employed in these fields. By the year 2005, the number is expected to reach 1.3 million. Demand for computer programmers will also continue to increase, with 601,000 in the work force by 2005.
Dyksen also has noticed a trend in hiring practices that favors new college graduates.
"It used to be that firms were only interested in people who had five years of practical experience in addition to a degree," Dyksen says. "Now they are discovering that they can't find those people, and in many cases the recent college graduates have more up-to-date skills."
Average starting salaries range from the low 30s to the low 40s depending on the industry and the location, but Purdue Computer Science Department graduates generally average about $10,000 more than that.
"This is an area where a Purdue degree really means something," Dyksen says. "We have a very demanding program, and our students graduate with the technical skills that allow them to have an immediate impact in the workplace."
Purdue was the first university in the country to offer a complete undergraduate curriculum in computer science as well as a doctoral program, and the school is an internationally recognized leader in the field.
While Dyksen would agree that 1997 is the ideal year to be graduating with a computer science degree, 1998 and beyond don't look too bad either.
"The opportunities are really starting to appear limitless," Dyksen says. "People are no longer asking 'What can I do with a computer science degree?' An easier question to answer is 'What can't I do?'"
CONTACT: Dyksen, (765) 494-6182; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Collective sales of the program's charter group of 18 business owners increased nearly 56 percent over the two-year period during which they attended classes.
The "E-program" offered by the Purdue-Calumet Entrepreneurship Center is designed to allow participating entrepreneurs to apply newly developed skills and practical information to their own businesses.
"I look at the 55.7 percent increase in total sales revenues for the first group of entrepreneurs not only as a reaffirmation of Purdue Calumet's community commitment, but also as an indicator that our Entrepreneurship Center is right on track providing training for practicing business owners," says Jamaluddin Husain, center director and associate professor of management.
The center is supported, in part, with a grant from the Chicago-based Coleman Foundation, one of the nation's largest contributors to entrepreneurship-awareness education. Michael Hennessy, president and chief executive officer of Coleman, says he's not surprised by the program's early success.
"We felt all along that this unique program is very practical in that it addresses nuts and bolts needs of its participants," he says.
The program is taught in three segments. The first focuses on the "how to" of general management, marketing and finance. The second allows participants to practice learned skills as consultants to small business "clients" of the Purdue Calumet Small Business Institute. During the final segment, participants seek to identify and implement strategic improvements in their own businesses through regular, roundtable meetings with mentors and program peers.
According to program participant Don Swibes, president of SWICO Inc.: "The E-program is fantastic. The strategic changes we have made in our own business have positioned us to make another dramatic improvement in sales and profits in 1997."
The sales results were based on a survey of E-program participants taken before they started classes in April 1995 and then again as the course concluded in February 1997.
CONTACT: Husain, (219) 989-2100.
"We need to move ahead together on two fronts: We must help our K-12 teachers become highly proficient in their subject areas and pay them what they are worth," Haring says. "The immediate challenge, however, will be overcoming both history and culture."
The United States follows an outdated 19th century model of education that separates K-12 schools and higher education, she says.
"We instead need to create an education system that's seamless, where the differences are blurred. The fabric produced will be much stronger," Haring says. "Our country has the finest higher education system in the world. Joining the 'best in the world' with the system that's feeding it is a natural fit that will create better students, who, in turn, will be better-prepared teachers."
The result, Haring predicts, will be increased expectations and higher achievement.
American educational history also shows that colleges and universities have successfully emphasized the process of teaching and focus on the learner in preparing elementary teachers, but sometimes at the expense of strong, in-depth content, Haring says. Conversely, secondary and higher education teacher preparation tends to focus on content rather than teaching methods and the needs of learners.
We need to combine the strengths of both, she says.
"At Purdue we've addressed this issue by requiring future secondary education teachers to major in the discipline -- or content -- they will be required to teach," Haring explains. "They earn a degree from the academic school in which their major is located, but secondary majors also take coursework in adolescent learning and motivation. It's a step more and more universities are taking to see that secondary teachers 'know their stuff' as well as how to stimulate students to think and learn about it."
The cultural challenges are almost as daunting as the historic ones, she says.
"K-12 schools are focused on teaching and learning, while many colleges and universities are concentrating on research and teaching -- in that order," she says. "There are significant differences in pay and status, and college faculty have more academic freedom and privileges like flexible work days."
Higher education also has been known to make the divide even wider by not rewarding faculty who work in K-12 settings. Instead, such clinical activity is denigrated as 'service.'
"This is an area where Purdue has recently taken a major step forward," Haring says. "Our Professional Development Schools Initiative is forging formal partnerships with K-12 schools, and participating university faculty are beginning to earn pay increases and promotions for their efforts."
Finally, K-12 and higher education are often in competition for funding, especially at state-supported colleges and universities such as Purdue. This is another roadblock to building closer links and will likely have to be tackled on a state-by-state basis.
"For many states," Haring says, "the road to the solution can be paved by a united front of universities, teachers and K-12 administrators working closely toward focused goals."
CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336: e-mail, email@example.com
"Moving up the ladder is quick in this business, especially for young people who are motivated and enthusiastic," says Professor Lee Kreul, head of Purdue University's Department of Restaurant, Hotel, Institutional and Tourism Management. "Within five years, some graduates get into top-level executive positions. Entry-level positions in this industry allow them to demonstrate they're qualified fairly early in their careers."
A 1996 U.S. Department of Labor study says jobs for hotel and restaurant managers could increase by as much as 35 percent during the decade that ends in 2005. The study indicates that those with degrees in restaurant and hotel management will have the best opportunities. Total job growth in the U.S. economy during that same period is forecast at about 13 percent.
Within six months of graduating, 81 percent of the students in Kreul's department had found employment with annual salaries as high as $33,500. Entry-level positions filled by Purdue graduates included assistant managers and management trainees, as well as general management positions.
Kreul emphasizes that although work experience is important for job-hunting graduates, nothing compares to the experience offered by study abroad and internship programs. "Employers want people who are mature and responsible, and a successful internship or experience abroad can prove that," he says.
Janet Bray, the department's recruiting coordinator, says employers see more value in an internship than in a job that a student held while in college. "An internship gives the student a chance to experience a variety of areas through rotation in order to get an overall view of the business instead of limiting them to one position as a typical job would," she says.
Artemisa Kuhn, employment manager of the Indianapolis Westin Hotel, says, "We are targeting students with training in hotel management because we are actually running low on managers."
According to Kuhn, who recruits at Purdue, the lodging industry offers college graduates the chance to go into management-training positions that could lead to promotion in a couple of years. "Some students who graduate from programs like Purdue's could be general managers in three or four years at a full-service hotel," she says. "Normally, it takes 10 to 15 years in the business to run a full-service operation."
"Right now, we are averaging about 50 postings for management positions at Westin Hotels worldwide. In this business, the jobs are there just waiting for qualified graduates."
CONTACTS: Kreul, (765) 494-4643
Bray, (765) 494-4729; e-mail, Brayj@cfs.purdue.edu
Kuhn, (317) 262-8100
Universities are setting up special assistance programs for dual-career couples to help the accompanying spouses find work and adjust to the new community. Purdue University is one example.
Purdue's program, now a year old, has aided 42 dual-career couples and helped 30 spouses find employment. It's one of seven such programs in the Big 10, and its personalized approach is one others want to model.
"There are just a few other universities that offer this kind of assistance," says counselor Betsy Brewer, who created the Purdue Relocation Assistance Program. "We've had a dozen calls since getting it started. It really is a model program that other schools are interested in duplicating on their campuses."
Brewer says it's individual contact and personal facilitating that make Purdue's program different.
"Not only do we provide job-search strategies and guidance, but we can also do career counseling for people who are thinking about making a change," Brewer says. "We also work on a lot of the adjustment issues connected to a relocation. Other programs tend to focus on serving as a clearinghouse for information."
Relocation specialist Tari Alper took over the program at the beginning of this year when Brewer left Purdue to operate a private consulting service. Both she and Brewer say they believe the program gives Purdue an extra edge in recruiting and retaining faculty and staff.
"A new hire will be much more focused on the job if his or her spouse is getting the kind of help they need to get settled," Alper says. "And the Purdue employee is more likely to stay put if the spouse is happily employed as well."
But she is quick to emphasize that the Relocation Assistance Program is not a job placement service.
"We certainly don't guarantee employment," Alper says. "We do, however, assist the client in becoming oriented and self-sufficient in this new location as quickly as possible."
CONTACTS: Alper, (765) 494-6366; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brewer, (765) 497-3755; e-mail email@example.com
Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
To the Purdue News and Photos Page