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Marketing Computer Science Courses

By Margot Phillipps

I joked as I left work on Friday that it was "my day of shame". I am responsible for recruiting students for a government-funded course that offers MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional). The course was scheduled to start March 8 but it has been postponed because we don't have the minimum number of students.

This is a "heavy duty" course with eight months of real full time study. It is not like a university course where you can just show up for the odd lecture. But anyone who contacts us interested in the course is prepared for the work and realizes the benefit of gaining an internationally recognized certification.

So why did we not get the enrollment we expected for this course? I think that, just as is the case with my programming and database class in high school, we assumed that we did not have to market the course to students. We know that what we're offering is useful, valid, challenging, interesting, so we assume that the students will too. And of course that's not the case.

As a Maths teacher, I envied the state of the more established subjects. These teachers do not have to "sell" their subjects. And like most teachers, I am trained to teach, not to sell. So, at the end of the day, most of us rely on our own enthusiasm to do our marketing for us. And these days that just isn't enough.

As for my current dilemma...well, I need more than enthusiasm. Maybe what I need is a marketing budget!

So what do you do to "sell" your courses?

Margot Phillipps
CSTA International Director


Hello Margot,

I can completely relate to your frustration. I work at Hillsborough Community College under a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant called CSTEP: Computer Science Transfer Program. The goal is to bridge community college students to our �sister� university, The University of South Florida in Tampa. When I started employment at HCC, I had never recruited before, but I had to learn�quickly! My employment depended on recruiting a number of students to participate in the program. We already had brochures (including the God sent CSTA brochures), postcards, flyers and a website in place, but I had to use a different approach� a personal approach. I set up tables in the student services lounge explaining the program and the benefits of CS. I met a lot of students that way. Another strategy I used was in class power point presentations that I created to explain the program in depth. The presentation outlines the benefits of CS, job growth, the decline of CS majors (at the time) and the benefits of networking and mentoring that CSTEP provides. Through a lot of begging, I was able to get a list of students that declared computer science as their major or who had taken the appropriate math and science courses.
I hope this helps. It can be a challenge, especially without formal training, but personal interactions always work best.

Best Wishes,

Beth Taylor

We can only do the best we can. For me, a high school math teacher, who partakes in many summer opportunities myself and also set up many opportunities for my 4 children, I find it extremely difficult trying to get the message of any program to most kids. I place an extensive "list" in my delicious and my diigo accounts which are exhaustively tagged. I advertise this information on our unofficial school blog along with extensive blog entries last school year about many cheap, free, or stipend student and teacher opportunities. I also talk to my students and all of them seem to have excuses why they cannot go: too far, too much work, too long, I hate (insert subject here), I'd rater just hang, ... I also pushed this information through our daily electronic dailygram memo. I also sent copies to all advisors.

I really do not think the students do not know ... well most of them know who want to know. It's what they want to do OR not do. It's not you!

I teach at a private school outside of NYC. All the students have laptops and the school states they have a commitment to "technology". I've been teaching for eight years there. I started teaching just AP computer science and intro to computer programming. I then began offering other courses in an attempt to attract students. These included non-comp sci, but computer related classes (Photoshop, 3D animation, robotics using java, etc).

After eight years I still have almost no sign ups. I asked a student last year why people weren't more interested in taking my classes (this being after I showed an animation short a previous student had done). The student's response was: They look fun, but we don't go to school to have fun. We go to get into good colleges. If we have free time, we'll study or socialize. We're not going to "play".

All of my classes are electives. . . students aren't electing to take them. Imagine if English, math or science was an elective. . .how many students would sign up for those classes. Computer Science (even just application programming) needs to be viewed as a core subject.

(I must have been an anomaly: computer programming was part of science for me starting in 3rd grade. That was many moons ago. When I began teaching eight years ago, I was surprised that my school didn't offer programming in lower or middle school. . .I thought though that it was unique to them. . .apparently it's not.)

This year just as I have during the last 5 years, I recruited students for my program. This year I sent out at least 200 personalized cards. The first set were the students that the College Board identified as potential students for Computer Science. With the cards, I included a Powerpoint presentation that included audio and examples of student projects for the teacher to run. The second set of cards were sent to students that earned an A or B in geometry. I also played the Powerpoint at Open House and my CS students spoke with incoming ninth graders. The assistant principal agreed to print a brochure when my original one was not printed prior to open house. I asked my current students to give the brochures to their friends and to encourage them to take a computer class. With all of this work I have managed to get 36 students to register for A.P. Computer Science, and enough students to run a second class if I combine a beginning course with Computer Science AB. I am now in the process of asking my district to consider giving math credit for the beginning programming course. I decided that since Accounting and Drafting count toward math credit that Programming certain should, too. I feel like this could be another hook to get students to enroll.

It has been observed that many students are not considering computer science as their degree so it is very important that proper marketing and knowledge of computer science should be spread. Thanks for sharing it.

I am a Tampa Realtor, not a maths teacher... but what I learned real quick is that even though there are many people in Tampa FL every day that have to sell or buy homes, they don't automatically pick up the phone and call me. I had to learn how to market myself (especially to the web) which meant learning basic web design, seo, viral marketing, social marketing and much more. Now, my Tampa real estate website gets about 200-300 visitors a day. The younger generation are all on the web... that is where I would start if I were you.

I am a Lewisville Realtor and I agree with the above comment that the internet is the way to market these days. I too had to learn basic web design and viral marketing. I have also taken a few Microsoft classes myself just to learn the basics. I have thought of going ahead and taking the MCITP course but it does require a lot of time and a large commitment but it surely would help my career as I help other offices and individual agents with their computer systems and such.

Is it marketing or a lack of desire to learn Computer Science among the student population? If you have enough students who should be interested, then maybe it marketing that's needed. Kids today socialize online more than they do face-to-face. Find out where your targeted students hang out online -- is it twitter or Facebook? Go there. Engage with them. Inform them. Give them a reason to enroll. Let them know that Microsoft certifications are coveted by employers. Give them this "for-instance" to think about: If an employer had a choice between two capable applicants for an IT position, who would the employer choose? The one with the certification, that's who, since they already proved they are capable of handling the work.

I am currently a student at a university in Indiana. Ironically, I am a marketing student there with a high interest in art and technology... so, I guess I was kind of meant to read this post. One thing that we learn in marketing is the features/benefits idea. This is implemented by simply listing the features of whatever it is you are selling and then use the benefits of each features as your selling "hooks." The greatest benefit you should be stressing if you do want to get some traction is how that course will benefit the student when he/she is apply for their full-time career after school. As a student, this really works on me because at the end of the day, all a student cares about is what it will mean for them when they graduate and are looking for a job.

To stress that point, think about it in the reverse... if someone comes to you and says: "Hey, take this class and spend a lot of time on it because it will mean absolutely zero to any and every future employer!" It would be absurd to think anyone would ever take that class, right? So, then the reverse must be true - if you present the class as something that will be highly valued by future employers, BAM! you got yourself a full class!

Good luck!

I am one of the owners of a computer networking company. Believe it or not, there is still a great need for IT workers. We have a hard time finding MCSE's with 5 years experience and that have good customer skills.

So, I just wanted to encourage you that what you are doing is important and there is a need for IT workers.

These days you need to do a little bit of marketing on anything, this includes the microsoft certification courses that you had few students show up. Margot, there are many ways of marketing courses that you may have. Easiest is online word of mouth like Facebook.

Yeah, I strongly agree with you. It seems there are really talented writers who are willing to share a very good articles online.

From what I see everyday more and more IT jobs are being shipped off overseas in exchange for lower cost. This is just sad.

That is a good question. I guess the first thing to do will be to develop a profile of the kinds of students that will be interested in the course. Once you do, you can build a matrix of their commonality and interests. You figure out what is of interest to them and where they congregate.

This will help you to determine how to reach them.

The next step will be to develop what I will call a 'value proposition'. You need to be able to quantify the benefits of the program to them. This is where it gets very tricky. We have a tendency to focus on the output. In this case the output is the certification. However, the outcome is the most important element. In this case the outcome will be the employment potential occasioned by the certification. What is the job prospect now and in the future and what kind of salary should they expect and what is the future industry trend

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