CIO Magazine recently honored Utah's Neumont University as a "Bold 100" winner. Neumont used to be called Northface until Northface clothing decided that people couldn't keep clothing and education straight and asked them to rename themselves. They're a for-profit college that focuses graduating software developers. In a recent email, CEO Scott McKinley wrote the following:
With our first graduates hitting the market next spring, we are seeing a lot of momentum building among potential employers, including IBM and others. That first group of graduates will shock a number of people in the IT industry – our freshmen are working on technologies that the seniors at many traditional high end universities do not have exposure to. The senior class members are walking/talking more like professionals who have been in the industry for 3 – 5 years…a direct result of the immersive, year-round, project based learning approach that we have engineered.
I think Neumont is an interesting experiment. Scott says "our freshmen are working on technologies that the seniors at many traditional high end universities do not have exposure to" with an assumption that that is a good thing. I think most of my colleagues would respond that they don't think students need exposure to those technologies at any level--that that's not what universities are for. There are clear philosophical differences between what Neumont is doing and what traditional universities do. At the same time, there are clearly market forces at work here and I think they will be the final arbiters.
One big concern I have is that I think the jobs that Neumont is preparing their graduates for, software developer working for a big company in a big software development shop, are the most at risk for outsourcing to India. Over the past several years, I've determined that I'm no longer convinced that software engineering, at least as it's commonly discussed and taught, is what I want to prepare students to do. I try to focus them on being innovative, entrepreneurial, and working with dynamic languages on networked applications.
I think Neumont would protest that they're students are being prepared to be all of that, and while I can't argue that question, I can look at who Neumont's customers are--where they get their money--and it's from companies that want to hire software developers by the bushel basketful.
Even, so I wish Neumont success. I'm hoping to learn from their efforts. I've followed these guys from the time this was just an idea and one thing I can say: they push through obstacles and get things done. I'd never be one to count them out.