A Vision Expressed: Clayton State Answers Business's Call for New IT Programs




Educom Review table of contents
March/April 1999
This article was published in Educom Review, Volume 34 Number 2 1999. The copyright is copyright is shared by the author(s) and EDUCAUSE.
An EDUCAUSE publication



  A Vision Expressed

A Vision Expressed

Clayton State answers business's call
for new IT programs

by Richard A. Skinner

One cliché about higher education has it that it is easier (and faster) to change the course of history than to change a history course. In an era when business and industry, especially information technology, operate at what seems to be "warp speed," colleges and universities are often seen to move at a glacial pace.

IT firms bring new products to market in time frames as short as 18 months, while a new undergraduate degree program typically does not produce its first graduate for several years, following several years of program development and governing body approval.

By contrast, one institution, Clayton College & State University, is seeking to pioneer a new role for academic institutions in its home state of Georgia. With the creation of the New College for Community and Economic Development in 1998, Clayton has focused even more sharply its part in regional economic development and taken a major step toward "speeding up" the design and delivery of academic programs that facilitate such development.

Just as important, the emergence and growth of the New College is based on closer ties between the University and business. In fact, its genesis was a statement by an AT&T official expressing real skepticism that any academic institution could move expeditiously to meet near-term work force needs, especially in the burgeoning IT field. From that grew a full-fledged partnership between Clayton and AT&T.

The foundation of the New College is the incorporation of technology as both means and ends for learning, and the transfer of that emphasis to the world of work. In 1997, Clayton (along with a two-year partner, Floyd College) launched the Information Technology Project (ITP), a prototype program for the University System of Georgia that aims at (1) making access to information and learning unfettered and (2) making information technology a central tool of teaching, learning and management of the organization.

To accomplish these goals, each student, every faculty member and most staff are provided with powerful multimedia notebook computers, unlimited Internet access and use on- and off-campus, e-mail and Web page accounts, training and support, and a campus card that enables access to copying, printing, financial transactions and other services.

As the official telecommunications provider for both the CCSU and Floyd campus cards, AT&T has been involved in the use of technology at Clayton since the start of ITP. However, the University's relationship with AT&T extends beyond the card, to a meeting that provided the seed for the New College and its signature program, the Information Technology Career Ladder (ITCL).

The impetus for the ITCL program took place during a May 1997 visit to Rockdale County by the University's senior administrators. In a meeting with AT&T executives, Clayton officials asked what the University could do for AT&T. Pete Cornell, then AT&T district manager for network control center operations, answered that the demands for qualified, skilled IT professionals was an immediate and dire issue.

Cornell, who is currently a division manager based in New Jersey, then proceeded to describe an educational program that would address AT&T's and industry in general's needs—a flexible and adaptable program with content reflecting current IT industry skill standards and expectations that respond quickly and responsibly to the rapid and volatile change that characterizes the field. Cornell's program would also include sustained collaborative relationships between Clayton and corporate and public-sector partners operating in the information technology field.

A Vision Expressed
Richard A. Skinner,
President of CSSU

Cornell also expressed his doubt that such a program could or would be created in or by higher education. But two of the building blocks for innovation —a challenge drawn, and vision expressed, had been put in place that day. With Cornell's and AT&T's subsequent support, the ITCL at Clayton State was established in August 1998.

ITCL is the first comprehensive, competency-based, three-tiered (certificate, associate and bachelor's degrees) IT program at an American university. It is competency-based, with courses organized into modules to facilitate students' earning credit for previous learning experiences. Students are not physically bound to the campus to complete graduation requirements due to educational delivery methods, which include "online" distance learning.

ITCL stresses technical content enabling graduates at each level to move toward the next degree and to immediately enter the job market. The program's objective is to meet the burgeoning and critical need for information technology professionals throughout the nation—the need expressed by Cornell in the initial meeting with Clayton—by quickly producing skilled information technology graduates at all three academic levels.

Seven key design principles set the program apart from more traditional computer science and computer information degrees:

  • Competency-based curriculum allows and encourages credit for prior learning;


  • Progression from one-year certificate to bachelor's degree;


  • Flexible and adaptable program content reflecting current IT industry skill standards and expectations that respond quickly and responsibly to the rapid and volatile change that characterizes the field;


  • Sustained collaborative relationships with corporate and public-sector partners operating in the information technology field;


  • Experiential, team-centered learning to complement course-based instruction, including laboratory experiences in studio-type settings, field-based learning through internships, and practica in which students work as members of task-oriented, problem-solving teams;


  • "Anytime, anywhere" online access to key instructional components of the program;


  • Innovative teaching by a mix of traditional faculty, contracted non-tenure-track faculty, student peer mentors and industry partner experts.

Ultimately, three features distinguish ITCL as an innovation.

One, ITCL breaks with traditional reliance on "seat time" and "contact hours" and replaces those with competency standards derived from close consultation with industry.

Two, the methods of student learning include online components (thereby enabling the student to have "anytime/anywhere" learning) and project-oriented group efforts that mirror the IT working environment.

Three, Clayton was and is prepared to look beyond conventional credentials of faculty to find and employ persons with the special substantive and pedagogical knowledge needed to teach in a field characterized by rapid change.

Together, these three features have enabled Clayton to create a program that will respond to the demands of the IT industry faster and more accurately than any other type of academic program based on traditional academic standards that include tenured professors.

Not only did such a radical program require the approval of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and University System Chancellor Dr. Stephen Portch, but many of its unique features required heavy involvement by business.

Once again, AT&T is leading the way, with a $200,000 grant to Clayton for curriculum development of the ITCL's wireless technology major. On the statewide level, ITCL also fits in well with the University System's initiatives. With the increasing shortages of information technology employees having an economic impact not only on Georgia, but on nearly every state in the union, the University System has developed a two-pronged strategy to position the state's public higher education system as an Information Age leader by tackling statewide and national shortage of information technology professionals. This innovative initiative combines the launching of several new academic programs like ITCL along with an accelerated work force development strategy.

Reaction to the establishment of the New College is encouraging. "The state that shapes an effective response to this person-and-brain-power shortage will have the single most dominant edge in the economic development arena," says Portch.

"Our industry is in critical need of trained IT workers," says Aleisa Spain, director of higher education marketing at Microsoft Corp. "CCSU has designed an innovative and flexible program to deal with this hot issue in a truly meaningful way."

"Collaborative efforts between industry and higher education are vital to the growth of the American economy. Clayton College & State University has shown tremendous leadership in responding to industry needs by forming strong partnerships with the business community," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.

"IT professionals are very much in demand," adds Vicki Gamble, principal business development analyst for Southern Company Information Resources. "It is super for somebody to create programs like this when we're having to weigh the option of bringing people in and training them internally."

At the same time Clayton was creating the ITCL, the University was also creating a radical new school to house the program.

The New College has a fivefold mission that has already been supported by economic development professionals:

  • To focus the academic resources of the institution on economic and community development;


  • To provide an organizational structure that will support and foster institutional change to respond to emerging economic and community development needs;


  • To provide administrative support for cross-disciplinary, integrative academic programs;


  • To provide a structure for a two-year cycle for the review of programs designed to meet economic and community development needs;


  • To provide administrative support for the experiential learning requirement of all baccalaureate programs.

"Higher education plays a pivotal role in our ability as a state to be able to deliver the most competitive product to the companies that we are eliciting growth and expansion from," says Randal Morris, deputy commissioner for marketing at the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. "The inclusion of higher education is important as we project a true collaborative effort in the state."

Two other Atlanta-area economic development professionals, Emory Brock of Clayton County, and John Boothby of Fayette County, agree that the University will play an important role in the future of the metro community.

A Vision Expressed
At Clayton State, every student
is provided with a notebook

"It's exciting for Clayton State to help us in promoting our communities and to improve our ability to promote the quality of life in communities about the state," says Brock, director of economic development for the Clayton County Development Authority. "There is a continuing and growing need for people to be trained and to learn about how to maintain and improve the quality of life through economic and community development issues as communities grow and become larger and more complex."

"Education is more important than ever before in the recruitment and retention of the industries we are attempting to bring to Georgia," says Boothby, executive director of the Fayette County Development Authority. "Having a local university not only plugged in to economic development, but bringing a focus to this important part of economic development is a significant step forward."

Initially, two other unique academic programs—the Bachelor of Applied Science and the Bachelor of Integrative Studies—are housed in the New College along with the ITCL. All three programs are new at Clayton State within the past two years, and all go beyond the traditional higher education courses of study.

The Bachelor of Applied Science program—the largest (with four majors) such program in Georgia—allows students with career associate or technical degrees to bridge into a bachelor's degree program with little or no loss of credit. This program is specially designed to allow individuals who are already on the job to upgrade their management skills.

The Integrative Studies degree programs afford students a unique opportunity to build their own career-oriented major by drawing on the course offerings of 18 Atlanta-area colleges and universities as well as online offerings from institutions worldwide. Integrative Studies enables students to develop programs that uniquely meet work force requirements, and employers' expectations and needs.

The New College has two additional unique features. Each program consists of modular courses which can be delivered using a variety of media. And, with the exception of some laboratory courses, all New College programs can be adapted to distance learning.

As the New College's signature program, ITCL currently has majors in Database Administration; Network Planning, Design and Management; Information Technology Management; and General Information Technology. The Wireless Technology major that was funded by the AT&T grant should be ready for the Fall 1999 semester. Two additional majors, Software Development and Information Design and Production are under development.

George Keller once observed that only two institutions have survived intact since the Middle Ages—the Catholic Church and universities—and neither is noted for rapid change. The care with which organizations undertake to change themselves and what they do may well serve to ensure their survival. But the current age seems to call on some organizations to "re-invent" themselves at frequent intervals. With the establishment of the New College, we seek to make it possible for Clayton College & State University to do just that.

Richard A. Skinner is president of Clayton College & State University.


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