College campus is IT hot spot

Forget liberal arts. Move over, engineering. One of the hottest majors on college campuses these days is information technology, and federal agencies stand to benefit as much as anyone.

A growing number of institutions are creating new majors that fit right into the federal job market, and it's not just universities such as Virginia Tech and George Mason in Virginia that get it. Even Harvard University offers an online degree in IT for undergraduate and graduate students. Most of them are looking for jobs in the federal market.

"It grew very, very fast," said Henry Leitner, assistant dean for IT at Harvard's Extension School, which is offering an IT major for the sixth year. The program has about 200 students, and a dozen graduate each year.

"Two or three years ago, when the Internet bubble was still alive, there was a rush for people to educate themselves in computing," Leitner said. "These days, the economy is softer, and it's mainly people who are already in the field trying to learn modern software techniques, update skills that are obsolete."

The change comes not a moment too soon, according to Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee, which works on ways to recruit new federal IT workers.

"Colleges and universities recognize there's a shift in our society, and a lot of students are starting to look for more hardcore technical degree programs at a rate far greater than any other time in the educational cycle," Hobbs said.

American University, in Washington, D.C., matriculated its first class last September for a 20-month master's degree program in IT management. The part-time program attracted students employed by the government or federal contractors who wanted the skills to keep moving up the career ladder.

"What we've identified at American University is the need to take people who are IT professionals who have spent three to five years in a variety of jobs and what is it that we can do to make them managers in IT," said Jill Klein, executive-in-residence at American's Kogod School of Business. "That is where there is a tremendous gap."

The Office of Personnel Management holds job fairs on campuses nationwide to recruit candidates for federal IT jobs.

Recognizing that demand would be growing, Pennsylvania State University launched the School of Information Sciences and Technology in 1999 and graduated its first class of 180 students last year. Nearly all of them found jobs, many in federal or state government, according to James Thomas, the school's dean.

"It's really a degree meant to use technology as a solution, not to create the technology — that's what computer scientists and engineers do," Thomas said.

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