In the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan, one will find a pioneering computer science school called Neumont University. Founded in 2002, Neumont offers a two and a half year program, awarding Bachelors of Science degrees in Computer Science, Software and Game Development, Business Technology, Operations Management, and Web Design and Development. “Neumont is on the cutting edge of technology,” said former student body president, Joshua Bambrick. “We were testing Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 a year before it was released and were teaching HTML 5 and CSS 3 just after it came out.” However, Neumont is not for the faint of heart; with students taking as many as 18 to24 credits per quarter, the year-round schedule can be quite rigorous. But for the ambitious techie, the payoff is pretty amazing.
Specializing in the digital arts, Ex’pression College is conveniently located just across the bay from San Francisco, California. It too has an accelerated curriculum, awarding degrees in just over two and a half years. Ex’pression College for Digital Arts CEO, Dan Levinson explained the rationale of the school, that the more quickly students are in the work place, the more apt their skills will be toward the work place. Ex’pression offers programs in Animation and Visual Effects, Digital Filmmaking, Game Art and Design, Interaction Design, Interactive Audio, Motion Graphic Design, and Sound Arts. Challenged by the cross-media education, students spend hours in lab editing movies and fine-tuning animations as they work toward top-tier positions in the entertainment industry.
These colleges have effectively all the same elements of a more traditional school, but allow students to graduate in half the time. Obviously they are career-oriented and focus on the practical application of what students learn in the classroom, but by no means are they vocational schools. Both Neumont and Ex’pression have general education requirements similar to those of other major universities. What distinguishes these schools, therefore, is not that they lack something, but that they understand what it takes to be competitive in the Information Age. In fact, before graduating, every Neumont student will have interned with three different “enterprise partners,” a few of which include eBay, IBM, and Nike. On the same level, eligible Ex’pression students participate in internships with local companies, and frequently receive offers from them upon graduation.
While these schools may seem to many like the perfect happy medium between four year colleges and online degrees, students may be concerned about what employers think of such accelerated programs, and whether they are considered comparable to computer science degrees from more traditional schools. “Ex’pression has a very good reputation with employers in the Bay Area,” said Levinson. “They see that students who go to Ex’pression know what it’s like not to sleep.” In such a demanding field, that is often what it takes to get the work done. “Our schedule is rigorous and intense,” said Miwa Kozuki, Ex’pression College Marketing Director, “similar to what it’s like to work in these industries, so students are used to it already.”
In looking at the numbers alone, one can see that a degree from Neumont University is equally promising. The starting salary for Neumont graduates averages $61,000, and 93% have jobs within 6 months of graduation (that’s still an entire year before the typical student would even finish). “I don’t graduate until December and I already have companies lining up to interview me,” said Bambrick. “In five days, I had seven interviews with companies who flew to Neumont to interview me. The week before, I had an interview with a different company every day.”
Some prospective students may be concerned about how such degrees would be received by graduate programs. Ensuring the successful transfer of credits and accreditation of schools are common concerns among many undergrads. Yet, Ex’pression’s national accreditation has not prevented students from being accepted to graduate programs at prestigious regionally accredited institutions, explained Levinson, including NYU. Similarly, a degree from Neumont University is recognized by Carnegie Mellon’s graduate school of computer science. Although the decision always lies with the receiving institution, more often than not, employers and other universities unreservedly recognize the merit of these curriculums upon speaking to the students and seeing just how much they know.
In a difficult economy and in such a competitive industry, thousands of students have already discovered and are taking advantage of this relatively new educational option. Unlike other computer science and digital arts programs, these schools offer a curriculum that is more hands on, and less theory. “You trade a traditional university experience of chalk board lectures and all night frat parties for a nontraditional experience filled with cutting edge technologies, industry level projects, and a degree that will land you a rewarding job,” explained Bambrick. While four years may seem like a reasonable amount of time to many, it’s simply wasted time for those eager to dive into the ever-evolving world of computers.