The National Science Foundation has awarded the National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) a $3.9 million renewal grant to spend the next five years addressing the ongoing shortage of skilled IT workers. This new grant will run through June 2022 and focus on emerging technologies – led by cloud computing and software-defined networking, plus the rapid expansion of the “internet of things” – that are transforming the IT workplace.
Specifically, the National CTC will focus on four goals:
- Program improvement to strengthen and support IT education programs across the country. This includes the ongoing use of a group of national IT business experts (called the “BILT” – Business and Industry Leadership Team) that meet three times a year to discuss emerging IT trends and once a year to validate specific IT job skills they believe entry-level workers need to get hired. This BILT model isn’t just for IT; it has proven successful in multiple disciplines – supported by many program officers at the NSF – at aligning curriculum with job skills and keeping faculty on the cutting edge. In this new grant, because IT is becoming so essential in so many other industries, special BILTs will be assembled to explore job skills for workers at the intersection of IT and manufacturing and also IT and biotechnology. “Program improvement” also includes the ongoing professional development of IT faculty at successful Working Connections events that provide in-depth training on a specific IT topic. The goal is for faculty attendees to teach his/her Working Connections topic (about 75% of attendees pick a topic they haven’t taught before) to students in a subsequent semester.
- Increase completers in IT education programs across the country. This includes the work the National CTC began this past February with a special “Diversity Summit” cohort of ten schools looking to increase enrollment numbers for under-served populations with specific diversity strategies. “Increasing completers” also covers the innovative BA-IT (Bachelor of Arts in Information Technology) program at the University of North Texas that allows the transfer of workforce courses from community colleges that most universities do not allow. The BA-IT program will soon offer online classes; soon, a student far from UNT will attend IT classes at his/her local community college and then earn a BA-IT degree with online UNT classes. This National CTC renewal grant will also launch a special research project – as requested by the BILT – to examine the impact of an IT student portfolio on employability. How much more likely will a student with a portfolio be hired compared to one without a portfolio?
- Develop regional CTC hubs with select grant partners. These regional hubs – in North Texas, Houston, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, and Ohio – will develop regional BILTs modeled on the National CTC’s national BILT to align curriculum and job skills, plus create communities of practice that include community colleges, high schools, and four-year universities. As the IT workplace grows more complex, traditional foundational IT skills are no longer enough for entry-level workers. More and more, students will need to learn IT in all three environments: high schools, community colleges, and four-year universities. These regional hubs will spearhead this innovation into “2+2+2” programs that will better prepare students for IT careers. Further, creating these regional hubs – initially steered with National CTC help but designed to ultimately be self-sufficient – will provide sustainability for IT programs long after National CTC funding ends in 2022.
- Capacity building to ensure that the National CTC will remain a leader in IT education. This means more webinars for IT faculty, more dissemination of best practices at conferences and through website postings, and a larger Convergence College Network (CCN) community of practice that will bring in 15 high schools and 15 four-year universities to join a group that already boasts 60 community colleges (and some universities) from around the country.
Learn more at this Collin College press release: