The SCTE is getting into the higher education business, offering college degrees tailored specifically for the cable industry through Rochester Institute of Technology. The SCTE has formed The Cable College LLC to run the program, set to start this fall. "As we go further down the road to becoming full telecom service provider[s] and [look at] all the technologies that are developing in parallel with that, it is becoming more crucial that we prepare the workforce that currently exists and that can be brought in as we grow," said Marv Nelson, SCTE vice president, professional development. Certificate, undergraduate and graduate degree programs will be crafted, using RIT’s existing curriculum as a base. The school currently offers Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in telecom engineering, but at the present time, both focus primarily on traditional PSTN or twisted-pair in terms of technology and application. "When you read through [the network technology course], it is laced with terms like SONET and ATM. SONET is somewhat applicable to cable today, but tomorrow it won’t be. We are working on building in a Gigabit Ethernet and IP layer," Nelson said. "The other component that has been vastly overlooked is the whole realm of digital video. Courses are coming that will address all aspects of digital video, including compression technologies and on-demand." The SCTE Education Advisory Board, staffed with execs from some of the major MSOs and chaired by John Donahue of Comcast, will work with RIT to analyze the curriculum. "There may well be a 10 to 20 percent modicum of change to make it cable centric," Dick Clark, president of B3 Broadband Bridge and The Cable College, said. Prospective students will have to meet standard RIT admissions requirements, but they can complete most of the course work from any location because the program is based on a distance-learning platform. The program is open to anyone who meets the admission standards, not just SCTE members; however, the SCTE does not plan to market the program outside of its membership. Instructors still will moderate the classes, and the workload will be similar to a classroom-based format. "It is assumed that there will be some physical lab requirement where [the material] can’t be virtually presented," Clark added. "[However,] we are looking at rather than having to go on campus for a quarter to do lab work, whether there is a way to consolidate the lab work so they can go for a week and do an intensive on-site lab program," Nelson said. According to Clark, there also is a plan to create four-to-six regional laboratory environments, perhaps using MSO labs certified by the university. This would give participants options as to where they carry out their lab requirements. The program will be flexible in other ways as well. Work experience will count, particularly for the undergraduate program. "RIT is keen on working with existing professionals," Clark said. On the graduate level, there also is talk of applying courses already completed for another degree. "I was looking through the curriculum and saying, ‘I want to do this, but it doesn’t make sense to duplicate what I have done,’" said Nelson, who already holds an MBA. The initial rollout of the program will target managers and engineers, but as content is developed further, it will address the needs of field service staff as well. "If it can benefit those in the industry, it also will benefit those looking to join the cable telecom space. My hope is that we will do both. We will help to rapidly bring up to speed those in the industry, but prepare tomorrow’s work force as well," Nelson added. – Monta Hernon

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