Although the MCSE certification program concentrates on product-specific skills, becoming a top-level MCSE requires a foundation on which to build those skills. Alternatively, most university degrees and certifications concentrate on concepts and theory, but don't provide the necessary hands-on experience for breaking into today's job market. In an effort to merge the hands-on training with a conceptual education, the University of Denver (DU) is developing an innovative solution to merge the MCSE certification with its Master of Computer Information Systems (MCIS) education. I recently spoke with Mike Fligg, director of the CIS Division, University College (a graduate school within DU specializing in adult education), about this program.

How do you plan to integrate the MCSE certification with the MCIS degree within the framework of a traditional university education?
We are approaching this program differently from the Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP). Students can take MCSE classes at community colleges for credit. However, because we are offering a Master's level program at University College, we didn't feel that the MCSE courses were true graduate-level material. As a result, we couldn't offer the MCSE courses for credit in our program. We recognize that having both qualifications is a significant recruiting benefit to the student and meets the needs of potential employers. We want to offer this dual qualification without compromising the quality and standards of our graduate program. We are looking at providing the students and employers with the industry certification they want and the depth of knowledge they need to back it up and build on what they have learned.

Do you see much overlap between the two certifications?
No, they complement each other. Grasping the concepts of a university course is easier when you can support the learning with hands-on experience and see how the information applies to commercial products and corporate solutions. And studying for industry certifications is easier when you know why something works the way it does, rather than just trying to memorize answers.

What form will this program take?
We are still working out the final details, but we will probably partner with a company that offers computer-based training (CBT). We won't offer the CBT courses for credit, but we'll sell the courseware commercially and discount it to the students. Essentially, the students will be able to sign up for these classes through University College, even though a third party will be providing the classes.

Are you looking just at CBT?
We intend to supplement the CBT approach with mentoring, which means we can make the CBT classes accessible regardless of location. This approach lets the students be flexible about when they choose to study and how long they take to complete the course. We have already started distance delivery of some of our courses, beginning with the networking section of the Master of Telecommunications degree.

We think that this approach is an economically viable alternative to the instructor-led training. It also provides mentoring opportunities for our adjunct faculty (most of the faculty at University College also have day jobs) and others.

Is the MCSE the only qualification you plan to add in this way?
We have a goal of multienvironment capability for our graduates. They should know about UNIX, Windows, and other operating platforms, and be able to apply this varied, broad-based background to whatever situation they find themselves in. Most employers we talk to have mixed environments and need qualified staff to handle the integration and coexistence of multiple platforms.

Where can readers get more information about this program?
They can contact me at mfligg@du.edu.