Schools, Pupils Learn Education Pays off Quickly: High-Tech Companies Create Endless Demand for Graduates
Abrahms, Doug, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Computer Learning Center posted a guard outside its Alexandria campus this year to keep away headhunters.
"What we had was a lot of people soliciting our students before they graduated," said Reed Bechtle, the chief executive of the Fairfax company. "That has been a problem for a lot of our campuses from the day we opened the door."
Companies that provide computer education are riding high on the region's need for programmers and network managers. Students seeking skills that will help them land jobs are crowding classrooms, and some companies aren't waiting for the applicants to come to them.
CLC turned down a large Dallas electronics company that offered to hire an entire year's worth of graduates from a regional campus. Strayer College said even its computer lab assistants are in demand.
"As soon as you get them trained, they get stolen," said Ron Bailey, the chairman of Arlington-based Strayer Education Inc. "It's not going to end in the next five years."
Analysts offer several reasons for the shortage of computer-trained professionals: a ballooning use of computers in the workplace, the slow increase in computer-science majors from traditional four-year colleges, and the gradual shift to knowledge-based work from traditional manufacturing and service jobs.
Another fundamental reason is the pace of technological change.
New systems, such as Windows NT, and programming languages, such as C++ and Java, keep springing up, forcing legions of workers to get new learning. That means good news for computer schools.
"You're not investing in a particular technology. All you're betting on is the technology will change and you'll need skilled people," said Keith Gay, an analyst at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. "The market's virtually open-ended for these guys."
For-profit schools offer everything from a two-week course at Los Angeles-based Learning Tree International, where workers can brush up on new software, to Strayer's undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Other companies that have gotten into the act include DeVry Inc. of Chicago, which offers college degrees, and Canterbury Information Technology Inc. of New Jersey, which trains corporate workers in Lotus, Borland and other software.
Wall Street has awakened to this development, and training schools have become hot commodities. Strayer Education's stock has almost quadrupled since it went public in June 1996, and CLC's has jumped nearly as much.
These computer-training schools don't feature ivy-covered buildings, marching bands or large grassy quadrangles where students fling Frisbees during breaks between classes. Strayer's corporate headquarters and one of its campuses sit above a Pier 1 Imports store.
"Students don't really care about settings," Mr. Bailey said. "We teach practicality - no theory."
Strayer, which began in 1892 as an accounting school, operates 15 campuses, including ones at the federal Department of Transportation and General Services Administration. About 9,000 students will take its classes this year, compared with about 9,700 at the University of the District of Columbia.
David Medina, who works for a large government contractor, said that getting his bachelor's degree in computer information from Strayer means a large pay boost.
Anyaogu Elekwachi hopes his master's degree will land him a good job with an oil company or other large concern when he returns to Nigeria.
David Long hopes to gain his bachelor's degree in computer information in March to become an officer in the Air Force, which picks up about 75 percent of his tuition. He may use his degree to leave the service and take a civilian job.
"The money is the big part. I know three guys in the Air Force that got out and took $55,000 jobs" after graduating from Strayer, he said. …