Digital World: Making a college education pay off

Dan Academic Center in Petah Tikva to teach students hi-tech curriculum that prepares them for jobs and careers in the real world.

By DAVID SHAMAH
February 21, 2011 21:57
Dan Academic Center

Dan Academic Center 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Why does a chicken cross the road? We all know the answer to that one. Now here’s another question: Why does a student go to college? We all know the answer to that one, too: To get a job! Possibly, at one time, the typical reasons potential students put down on their college applications to describe why they want to attend a particular institution – “To widen my range of experiences,” “To learn about cultures and people,” “To expand my horizons” – would have made an appropriate response to the question at hand. Like maybe sometime back in the ’60s.

Not now, though. Today, no one plunks down the princely sums demanded by universities unless they are reasonably sure of at least the possibility of a job – and preferably a career – at the end of their course of study. Nowadays, college is like an investment, and it makes sense to go with a school that is more likely to pay off.

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In a country like Israel, college isn’t just an investment for the individual student. Developing potential leaders for the country’s export-driven technology industries is essential, especially given the global competition from other powerhouses such as Singapore and India, nipping at Israel’s heels in their attempts to become the dominant force in hi-tech development that Israel is today. For years, Israeli politicians and industrial leaders have spoken of a brain drain, a dearth of new blood to keep Israel on top of hi-tech development.

So, to sum up: Companies are looking for a steady source of workers they can direct to positions they have available and can’t find manpower for, while students are looking for schools that can give them a leg up in the job market. Wouldn’t it be just dandy if hi-tech companies could develop a curriculum for university-level programs that would train students to move right into the most up-and-coming careers and into the jobs that need filling right now? That certainly makes a lot of sense; so much, in fact, that you have to wonder why nobody, anywhere else in the world, came up with the idea until a group of Israeli hi-tech executives and academics did.

The Dan Academic Center (www.dan.ac.il), a new college that just opened for business on Monday, is the school in question. With the help of input from some 40 of Israel’s biggest hi-tech companies, the DAC, a fully accredited institution of higher learning, will teach students a hi-tech curriculum that will prepare them for jobs and careers in the real world.

“Without this program, there is a real danger we will begin falling behind the rest of the world in hitech areas,” says Ziv Mandel, a member of the DAC advisory board. With the DAC, Israel now has a fighting chance to stay ahead of the game, he says.

Mandel is CEO of Matrix and codirector of John Bryce Training, so he would certainly be in a position to know the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s educational system.



“The Dan Academic Center is designed to meet the needs of Israel’s hi-tech industry,” Mandel says. “With all the talk of Israel’s hitech prowess, fewer students have been going into computers in recent years – and many who do are not studying management and information systems, some of the key areas where we need people.”

The DAC’s curriculum is designed specifically to meet those needs and, he says, “will be the engine that keeps Israel’s hi-tech engine in high gear.”

While helping established universities and colleges to develop specific courses based on industry needs is not uncommon, Mandel says, establishing a whole new college for that purpose is not just uncommon, it’s unique.

“To the best of my knowledge, no other school anywhere is doing something like this,” he says. “We decided to establish a separate institution because we felt it was the only way to ensure that students would learn what we need them to know.

We weren’t interested in helping an established school to increase its curriculum, which is what a course would have amounted to.

“We want to set the educational criteria and standards and ensure that graduates start out ahead of the curve, not behind it, as so many universities are,” because their materials and textbooks are just not up to date, Mandel says.

The DAC advisory board consists of the cream of Israeli academic personnel and top officials of the top companies in the Israeli economy, ensuring a melding of excellence in learning with relevant curricula, he says.

Since much of what DAC students are set to study will be cutting-edge stuff, the school has developed its own curriculum, study materials and books, with information that is just not available anywhere else, Mandel says. As such, the school will have a valuable asset that will likely be much in demand by other Israeli colleges, he says, as well as higher education institutions from outside the country.

“We would be more than happy if demand for our materials led us to be able to publish textbooks and guides, but at the first stage we are going to be concentrating on the DAC,” Mandel says.

The first classes will come from the ranks of professionals looking to upgrade their skills, as well as newly enrolled students, about half and half, he says, “so that both groups will be able to network, and new students will already know many members of their prospective profession.”

In the future, the school will feature programs for haredim and Arabs, to help them unlock their potential, Mandel says.

The curriculum will consist of studies leading to a BA degree in information- technology studies and a BS in computer science. The school is located in Petah Tikva’s new hi-tech industrial area of Kiryat Matalon.

Among the companies that were consulted on the curriculum were Check Point, Cisco, EMC, BMC Software, Orcal, Amdocs, Orbotech, Comverse, Netvision, Matrix, Cellcom, Mei-Eden, Tnuva, Clalit Health Services, Bank Leumi, Gilat Satellites and Malam Team.

Part of the curriculum will include extensive hands-on experience in working systems within the organizations, as well as internship opportunities.

Among the DAC staff will be some of the top names in Israeli science and computers, including Dr.

Michael Hanani and Prof. Katriel Be’eri, who have both been appointed deans of the school. Prof. Niv Ahituv, academic chairman of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Internet Research and an industry veteran, has been appointed president of the DAC.

As everyone knows, good education doesn’t come cheap – and that’s especially true in the case of the DAC, because it will not be receiving any government subsidies, at least for now. Tuition, as a result, is a steep NIS 28,000 a year. But Mandel says there are ways to reduce that sum, including by applying for scholarships and grants and taking some core-curriculum courses at other schools.

On the other hand, while there is no guarantee of anything, graduates who do well in their studies are likely to be first in line for jobs offered by the companies sponsoring the school.

“The main thing is that students must be motivated to want to work in hi-tech,” Mandel says. “A career in hi-tech can be rewarding personally, but it can also be rewarding for Israel – and we hope motivated students will want to get involved.”

digital.newzgeek.com

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