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Role of Community Colleges in Expanding the Supply of Information Technology Workers, The

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Document date: May 01, 2000
Released online: May 01, 2000

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

This report was prepared at the Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, under DOL Contract No. J-9-M-5-0048. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Department of Labor, the Urban Institute, or their sponsors. The authors would like to thank all of the interviewees for their participation in this study. We extend special thanks to Marcia Williams, Colleen Owings, Dennis Kirlin, Bill McDaniel, Nancy McNamara, and Neil Evans for their cooperation and for giving us access to data on community colleges.


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. An Analysis of National Patterns

    Which Education Groups Are Filling IT Jobs?
    The Education Growth Effect vs. The IT Growth Effect
    Major Field of Study
III. The Community College Perspective
    Methodology
    Enrollments in the Focal Colleges
    IT Programs and Curricula
    Skill Requirements
    Curriculum Development
    Faculty
    Links with Employers
    Career Resources
IV. The Employer Perspective
    Methodology
    What Do Employers Think About Community College Graduates?
V. Concluding Remarks
    Strengths of Current Community College IT Programs
    Weaknesses of Current Community College IT Programs
VI. References

Tables and Figures

Figure 1: Education of Workers Filling IT Positions Between 1994 & 1999
Table 1: Education Levels of IT Workers: 1994 & 1999
Table 2: Education Levels of IT Workers Ages 25-34: 1994 & 1999
Figure 2: Education Levels of IT Workers: 1994 & 1999
Figure 3: Education Levels of IT Workers Ages 25-34: 1994 & 1999
Table 3: Decomposition of IT Employment Growth: 1994-1999
Table 4: Decomposition of IT Employment Growth, Workers Ages 25-34: 1994-1999
Figure 4: Percent of Education Category in IT Jobs: 1994 & 1999
Figure 5: Percent of Education Category in IT Jobs, Workers Ages 25-34: 1994 & 1999
Figure 6: IT Workers by Education Level 1999
Table 5: Community College IT Enrollments 1998


I. Introduction

The demand for information technology (IT) workers has increased rapidly over the last decade and is projected to rise much faster than employment as a whole. The expansion of jobs for computer scientists, database administrators, network administrators, web specialists, and systems analysts appears to have exceeded the growth in the supply of U.S. citizens who are trained IT workers. Industry representatives contend that the U.S. faces a shortage of hundreds of thousands of IT workers, a shortage that justifies enlarging, for a second time, the H1-B program that grants 115,000 temporary visas per year.

Meanwhile, students have responded to the new opportunities in IT, but colleges and universities are having trouble keeping up with the increased demand for courses in computer science, computer engineering, and other information technology fields. While employers have clearly demonstrated their willingness to hire bachelor’s degree (BA) graduates in computer-related fields for IT occupations, the future of community college associate’s degree (AA) graduates in IT is less clear. Community colleges would seem to be a natural supplier of low- and intermediate-skilled workers. However, some employers are concerned that two-year colleges cannot provide the in-depth training necessary for high-tech jobs. Recent reports suggest that public and private employers are not interested in hiring trained community college graduates for available IT openings (Behr, 1999; Virginia Governor’s Commission on Information Technology, 1999). At the same time, thousands of students are taking computer-related courses at community colleges.

What, then, is the role of community colleges in expanding the supply of information technology workers? Are community colleges responding effectively to the dramatic jump in demand for IT workers by offering solid education and training to a large number of students? Or are community colleges doing little to expand the supply of IT workers? This paper investigates the issue using quantitative and qualitative methods. In particular, we asked how many IT jobs are being filled by community college graduates? How do community colleges prepare students for careers in IT? How do employers view community college graduates? And how do employers and community colleges interact with respect to internships, curriculum development, and job placement?

The evidence yields contrasting stories concerning the importance of community colleges. Quantitative analyses of AA graduates and interviews with large IT employers indicate that community colleges do not make a significant contribution to the supply of IT workers. However, data on enrollments and case studies suggest that community colleges undertake a substantial amount of IT training. While graduation rates are low, enrollments in community college IT programs are high. Moreover, there is evidence that community colleges contribute to retraining workers who are already in IT jobs, those switching into IT careers in midlife, and those with previous bachelor’s degrees. We identify a few model community college programs as well as promising advances in IT training in all of our focal colleges. If these successful practices and programs can be more widely diffused across the country, community colleges may in fact be able to make a significant contribution to the supply of IT workers in the economy.

The next section presents tabulations from the 1994 and 1999 Current Population Surveys (CPS) on the number of community college graduates in IT positions. Section three describes findings from case studies of four community colleges. And section four reports on evidence drawn from interviews with IT employers in the vicinity of the focal colleges.

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