Sunday, September 17, 2000

BYCZKOWSKI: New Economy


University enrollment does not compute

map
        It doesn't take a computer science major to see that the numbers don't add up.

        The latest projections available say Cincinnati will need about 600 computer professionals each year through 2006. Here's how many majors are enrolled this fall at the biggest area colleges:

        • University of Cincinnati: 704 majors in computer disciplines in the Colleges of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

        • Xavier University: 45 majors in computer science and 104 in information systems.

        • Miami University: 440 bachelor's candidates and 50 master's across three programs.

        • Northern Kentucky University: 295 undergraduates and 15 in a new master's program.

        So, out of these 1,653 students, you might get 400 graduates a year. That's 200 short of what the state projects Cincinnati needs.

        And the state's estimates are way low. The estimates are based on employment figures from 1996 — the very start of the Internet business boom. The study says, for instance, Cincinnati needs 157 new programmers a year.

        Only 157? I could name three companies that together hired that many in the first half of this year.
       

Grads in demand
              

        None of the schools indicated it is bursting at the seams with students eager to pursue information technology as a career.

        “We definitely could handle more students. Our graduates are in high demand,” said Gail Wells, for six years chairwoman of NKU's mathematics and computer science and now dean of arts and sciences.

        Doug Troy, department chairman for computer science and systems analysis at Miami, concurs: “I think because the type of person that enjoys this kind of work is a strong analytical and mathematical type. Our students take a year of calculus and a year of probability and statistics. Probably a majority of students would not want to do that.”

        No doubt computer work is challenging. “The problem starts before college,” he said. “Students not pursuing a good math background in high school.”

        And there's the rub: Every state in the nation wants a seat on the high-tech bandwagon. And every one is drawing up a plan to do that.
       

Ohio has a plan
              

        Ohio is no different. A draft report of the state's “Science and Technology Strategic Plan” working its way to the Statehouse talks about attracting more research and research money to Ohio. It talks about tax incentives for technology companies and state involvement in venture and seed funding.

        In only the broadest terms, however, does it mention improving high school education and drawing more students to the sciences. Nowhere does it mention the state's current “IT Works” program for bringing more computer science into high schools. The word “mathematics” appears just once in the draft.

        NKU's Ms. Wells raises other challenges: Because of the progress of technology, the courses change every two years. COBOL is out, Java is in, and faculty need to be trained. And many faculty are jumping ship, taking higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

        Ohio's plan talks about faculty only in the sense of giving them more entrepreneurial freedom, to produce new technology that can be commercialized.

        The plan so far smacks of throwing money at a technology elite. That seems to be a far more convenient solution than improving math and science education in high schools and paying dedicated instructors a market wage.

        E-mail John Byczkowski at johnb@enquirer.com or call 768-8377. Find a list of local New Economy companies at Enquirer.com/neweconomy.

       



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