PRISM Magazine  - October 1999
Behind the Y2Kurve

by David Brindley

box How do you spell trouble? Y2K: the bug that just won't go away.

The pest is still bedeviling colleges and universities, according to a recent survey among 2,100 postsecondary schools showing that only 30 percent are Y2K compliant; that is, their computer systems won't crash when the calendar rolls over from 1999 to 2000.

So what does that mean for the 70 percent of colleges that haven't tested their computer systems? Not necessarily pandemonium, but those schools do run the risk of a computer system shutdown come New Year's day, according to a report by the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion.

"Y2K-related failures in schools are unlikely to have a direct impact on teaching and learning," the report says. "However, such failures could have an adverse impact on other factors critical to the education environment, such as building safety/infrastructure, students records, payroll, and curriculum involving the use of information technology."

In plain language, that means student grants and loans may be delayed, student records could be deleted, and class registration may be disrupted. If building systems shut down because of the glitch, card-reader security systems at dorm entries could be affected, leaving students out in the cold.

The report indicates, however, that the majority of schools—61 percent—have already drawn up plans for achieving compliance by the end of the year. What's more, 99 percent reported that their systems would be able to handle the date change; the same percentage have contingency plans as well.

The good news is that the run-up to Y2K will soon be over. For unprepared schools, however, that's the bad news as well.

Gender Differences

Engineering school is tough enough. For women, it's even harder.

According to a new study conducted by the Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network (WEPAN), many female engineering students feel less confident in their abilities than their male counterparts. That may be the cause for a higher dropout rate for women than men and may ultimately lead to fewer female engineering graduates, which perpetuates the roadblocks. "Feelings of isolation due to the low presence of female undergraduate and graduate students and professors may contribute to low self-confidence," the report states.

The study involved 29 engineering schools and more than 8,000 students who responded to a series of questions about their educational experiences. Women reported less confidence than men did in their overall academic ability in engineering-related courses, their choice of engineering as the right major, and classroom participation. The survey did not look at the reasons behind those feelings, or how to address them.

"Institutions need to identify why women and men perceive the undergraduate engineering experience differently, particularly in the areas that relate to self-confidence," says Susan Staffin Metz, co-author of the study and president of WEPAN.

More direct action is offered through MentorNet, an electronic network sponsored by WEPAN that pairs female engineering students with professionals working in the field. Since it began last year, MentorNet has matched more than 500 students at 26 universities with mentors at 261 companies. Students and volunteer mentors correspond via e-mail, providing a broader reach among students than more traditional mentoring programs.

The experience was worthwhile for Libby Handelsman, who recently graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. "When you attend a large university like I did," Handelsman says, "it's nice to have someone who has real-world experience and is willing to give you personal attention." That, and the job she took at IBM in Fishkill, N.Y., where her Internet mentor works, is certainly one way to boost confidence.

(For more information, see )

Hike in Starting Salaries

For Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan it may spell trouble. But for college students trading in their backpacks for briefcases, it's good news: starting salaries are on the rise.

The latest survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that demand for graduates in the engineering disciplines is driving up starting salaries. Job offers for chemical engineering grads, for example, are averaging $47,136, an increase of 4.5 percent over last year. Electrical engineering majors are also doing well, with offers averaging $45,121, up 4.2 percent, while civil engineering offers are averaging $36,160, a 2.3 percent increase.

Computer science grads are reaping the rewards of a booming economy as well with starting offers now averaging $44,345, a 5.7 percent increase over 1998; software development jobs in particular are averaging $46,513.

In addition, employer campus visits, interviews with students, job postings and resume requests were all up during 1998-1999, and no signs of a downward trend are on the horizon for this academic year. That may push starting salaries even higher for 2000's graduates.

And that's enough to make Mr. Greenspan downright nervous.

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