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11/16/2003

Tech careers still drawing college students’ interest

The Associated Press

FORT COLLINS — Despite the implosion of the technology sector in recent years, Lindsey Beabout has no regrets about studying computer information systems in college. Beabout, a senior at Colorado State University, admits she is nervous about what the job market might or might not hold, but she is confident she made the right educational choice. “I feel like I’ve got a good background,” said Beabout, who graduates in May. “It’s a good skill set for analytical thinking.” As tech companies laid off hundreds of thousands of workers and shipped many jobs overseas, enrollment in technology programs at some local universities has fallen. But the drop isn’t necessarily a bad thing, some college administrators say. Numbers from CSU show that 524 students declared computer information systems concentrations in 2000, a peak for the program. This year, enrollment was 220. “It is an almost perfect mirror of the Internet bubble,” John Plotnicki, chairman of CSU’s Department of Computer Information Systems, said of the rise and fall of the program’s popularity. The high demand posed challenges, such as finding adequate staffing. “We had junior and senior class sizes of 80 to 90,” Plotnicki said. “Now, we’re down to more reasonable sizes of 40 to 50 students.” At the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, the height of enrollment came in 2000 when 268 students declared computer majors. This year, 95 students enrolled in the program. “Declining numbers don’t mean declining quality — just the opposite,” said Jay Lightfoot, director of the computer information systems department at UNC. Plotnicki and Lightfoot said students were often drawn to the degree programs because of the lucrative IT industry. “During the boom, a lot of students picked the field to make money,” Plotnicki said. Now students are genuinely interested in computers, not just the high-paying jobs. “The people who are coming through now are truly interested, whereas before, there were some who were enamored by the glitz,” Lightfoot said. However, those who pursue computer-oriented degrees face serious challenges in the job market. Tech employers continue to lay off workers while increasingly relying on overseas labor, instead of filling entry-level positions in the United States. Plotnicki said recent graduates might have an edge in the job market because their skills are fresher and they’re willing to work for less. Todd Kerr, chief executive officer of Fort Collins-based Managed Business Solutions, said journeymen still have the advantage in the job market because they have practical business experience and chances are they’ve refreshed their skills through retraining. But there’s still a place for entry-level workers, he said. “The fundamentals of a balanced IT team is that you need some entry-level positions,” Kerr said. “You can’t hire 15-year veterans across the board.” CSU has placed almost 73 percent of its 2003 computer information systems graduates in IT jobs, said Bill Shuster, assistant director of CSU’s College of Business Career Center. The figure was 94 percent in 2000. “In the good old days — three years ago — you could basically throw a resume in the air,” he said.