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New Curriculum Offers Hi-End Computer Skills

The technology boom in the United States has created a huge demand for software engineers, people who can write software programs and design computer systems. But the number of students attracted to computer programming is not sufficient enough to fill all the job openings in the field.

To alleviate the shortage of workers, one of the country's top schools in computer science is now training teachers and educating students beyond its campus walls.

Carnegie Mellon University is one of America's top ranked schools and its rigorous computer science program is world-renowned. Each year it graduates about 100 software engineers. This number does not even make a dent in the more than 200,000 jobs available in the field. To fill the gap, the U.S. computer industry has had to recruit from outside the United States.

CMU professor Allan Fisher is troubled by this trend. "While this is a fine thing," he said, and immigration has been great for the United States, it is important that we make more opportunity available to people domestically."

Since many people have no access to affordable high quality training in software development, Professor Fisher and several CMU colleagues decided to bring the university to them. They put together a curriculum of 10 computer courses called Carnegie Technology Education. They began selling the program to clients such as community colleges and corporations in the information industry. The first CTE customer was the nearby Community College of Allegheny County.

Professor Fisher says the student body there is a perfect fit for the program. He said, "You will find a lot of people who didn't get into Carnegie Mellon University, or any other university who have the talent and capability to operate in this profession. And we wanted to reach those students."

CTE prides itself on offering a curriculum that is similar to a university's in quality and depth. It constantly revises its teaching material to ensure its timeliness and to improve the quality. Students have regular face to face interaction with instructors, who are trained and certified by CTE. Each teacher is assigned a mentor to answer any questions.

CTE Instructor Charlotte Peterson says having a mentor has made a big difference. "It has been so validating for me," she said. "Erased that burnout. It is pretty amazing. If I need to know something, I have someone to call, rather than searching for hours on the Internet. I go to the source. It is wonderful."

The CTE program is hard work. The classes are more intense than other community college courses. Still, most students say they are worth the extra effort. One student said, "I believe it is an excellent program." Another said, "I am very pleased, and I feel comfortable with these courses cause they are really student friendly." And a third sutdent said, "I've been looking for a few years for a good program. This one combines a good body of knowledge, good delivery system and very affordable."

At the end of the 10 course series, students are qualified as programmers and software developers. Kris Simons says she just landed a new job as a computer programmer because of the cachet of the CTE certification. She said, "My boss knew it was associated with CMU and that's probably why I was offered the position."

More than 2,000 students have signed up for CTE courses. At this point the curriculum is primarily being used in the United States, but the response to it has been extremely positive elsewhere. Classes are already being taught in India, South Africa, Mexico, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Plans are underway to expand the Carnegie Technology Education program to still more countries.