The Michigan Virtual University, a state-supported college on the Internet, is to announce today it has received a $750,000 grant from Ameritech to help train programmers, Web-site developers and computer engineers to fill an estimated 40,000 job openings statewide.
The challenge grant will be used to create Michigan Virtual Information Technology College, which will offer classes to state residents over the Internet by early next year. Ameritech hopes other state corporations will match its grant.
Students who sign up on-line will be able to get assignments, read lectures and get notes for classes at www.mivu.org . The finished work then is sent via e-mail to instructors at the state's colleges and universities who read and grade the work on-line and e-mail it back to the students. Students will even be able to earn degrees on-line from the colleges offering the courses.
"We're looking to provide a zero-to-60-m.p.h. track primarily in entry-level courses to people interested in learning or improving" their information technology skills, said MVU President David Spencer.
"There are at least 10,000 current openings in the state for IT professionals," Spencer said. "But there may also be as many as 30,000 additional technology-oriented job openings in Michigan's overall workforce that need intermediate or advanced skills or knowledge not usually associated with traditional IT jobs."
Those include jobs in which restaurant workers scan bills into electronic cash registers to bank clerks typing mortgage information into personal computers.
Training Michigan's workforce for these 21st-Century technology jobs will boost the state's productivity and its economy. Statistics show the average state IT worker earns $46,000 a year, compared with the national average of $28,000 a year for all jobs.
Despite the efforts of the nation's colleges, not nearly enough students are graduating with technology training, said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America. About 36,000 students graduate each year with computer science degrees nationwide, about a tenth of the current 346,000 IT job openings nationwide.
So it's important that colleges and universities reach out to potential IT students in their homes and workplaces over the Internet, said Ameritech Michigan President Robert Cooper.
"IT is an area where you always have openings," he said. Some 20,000 people are expected to enroll in the Michigan Virtual University by 2002, he said, including many from Ameritech.
"There are a couple things we do within the company that fit well with this," he said. "We have a great education plan here that allows Ameritech employees to go back to school and the company reimburses their tuition. This is a nice easy way for people to work at a job and go to school."
Ameritech also wins because most of the telephone lines delivering these college courses to on-line students are owned by the Chicago-based telecommunications giant, the dominant local phone service provider in Michigan.
"We have 550,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in this state," Cooper said. "You could go to the moon and back on that. I also see distance learning as a way to have equity in education that applies to everyone in the state, not just those among us who haveaccess to the most resources. As a person of color, equity in education is very important to me."
The course catalog and costs have not yet been determined.
Giving everyone in the state a chance to learn high-tech skills is important to Gov. John Engler as well.
"Soon anyone who gets IT training will be able to take classes from their jobs or home," Engler said. "This is a very important initiative for the state. Washtenaw County has 2,500 unfilled IT jobs. And Oakland County needs thousands more people as well.We even need a lot of these skills in state government."
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