This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

August 24, 1999

Where Have All The Students Gone?

129 days until January 1, 2000

There's a disturbing trend afoot. Students are dropping out of college before completion, harkening to the siren song of big money in the internet industry.

The high-tech arena is desperate for workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 108 percent increase in the need for systems analysts, engineers and computer scientists from now until 2006. Today there are an estimated 933,000 jobs in the these fields, and by 2006, the bureau estimates, that will rise to 1.9 million. Yet the nation's computer science programs each year are graduating only 25,000 students with bachelor's degrees.

Employers are so aggressive in recruiting that computer science departments are losing graduate students and even undergraduates to jobs that seem surrounded by pots of gold. For many young people, a job paying from $30,000 to $60,000 a year seems far more appealing than pursuing a degree with questionable value, especially when those tantalizing stock options are dangled like carrots before their eyes. Faculty members are being attracted to much more lucrative opportunities to apply their talents.

For years, statistics have shown that one's level of education correlates directly to earning potential. Today's unprecedented high demand for competent employees may be driving a different statistic. Is this permanent, or merely a temporary flash in the compensation pan? For talented techies, dropping out of school to get a fast start on their moneymaking career makes sense on the surface. How long will it last? What happens when these folks, working day and night in the churn-and-burn internet employer environment, burn out? Will they be obsolete? Will they return to school? Will they be able to, perhaps with families and other concerns?

How much can a student learn on campus, compared to actually going out and getting the experience? How will these young people keep up with the ever-changing technology in school and/or in the workplace? Some universities are already promoting programs where students can finish their degrees, get their credentials and a broader perspective on life, yet still work. Creativity in course scheduling and cooperative arrangements with employers will enable such programs to work.

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