The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's management information systems department has changed its name and revamped its academic programs to serve more students and better meet the needs of the growing number of businesses that want to hire its graduates.
In the fall, the newly named information systems department will begin offering new major, minor and certificate programs, all of which better address student career interests and current IS trends in business and industry, said Dr. Thomas Hilton, chair of the department.
"The IS field has changed dramatically in the last 10 years," Hilton said. "Information systems now impact all levels of every organization in every country in the world. People in the IS field now focus less on the technical aspects of an information system and more on how the technology can help an organization solve business problems and achieve goals. As a department, we have re-invented ourselves to stay a leader in the field."
The new academic programs within the IS department will give students a greater ability to target their educational and professional interests and goals, Hilton said.
"We've completely redone the curriculum," Hilton said. "We've created three emphases within the IS major, aligning those with distinct IS career types. We've added a great deal of flexibility so students can decide what emphasis best matches their long-term goals. And we've redesigned our minor and certificate programs to make them more flexible and accessible to more students, including those not in the College of Business. These are huge, huge changes."
Hilton hopes the curricular changes will reverse locally a national trend of declining enrollments in IS programs. Since 1998, the number of MIS majors at UW-Eau Claire has dropped from 434 to 182 last fall, Hilton said. And right now only 13 percent of the MIS majors are women, down significantly from 30 percent in 1998, he said.
The decline has occurred despite an ongoing increase in demand for MIS graduates and starting salaries of $45,000-$51,000 for entry-level jobs, Hilton said, noting recruiters on campus in fall 2005 were interviewing UW-Eau Claire's 22 MIS graduates for about 90 open positions.
"We had significant motivation for making the changes," Hilton said. "Student interest in the major was dropping even as enticements were going up. Our students are in demand. Career options within the IS field are broader than ever, with businesses offering more flexibility in work arrangements such as telecommuting and job sharing. And salaries are going up, making them among the best starting salaries for people with a bachelor's degree. There are tremendous opportunities within the IS field, particularly for women. Despite all of that, we were losing students, and that was a clear signal that we weren't serving them well."
After reviewing their major and minor, the MIS faculty determined that their academic programs were more technical than current industry trends warrant, Hilton said. And students indicated frustration with the major's inflexibly and heavy technical focus, he said.
With those things in mind, the major was revamped to require much less technical coursework, while letting students choose an emphasis more focused on the business aspects of IS, Hilton said.
Giving students the flexibility to focus more on the business side of the IS field is a positive step because employers expect new graduates to have strong business and leadership skills, as well as some technical knowledge, said Mark Hosmann, a recruiter for Cargill and a member of the UW-Eau Claire's MIS Industry Advisory Committee.
"More and more technical jobs are being done by contract resources and/or overseas personnel," Hosmann said. "So while there will still be technical jobs in the U.S., there will be more opportunities related to the business side of IS. The more business-minded IS students are, the more opportunities they will have and the more value they can bring to an organization."
Students choosing an IS major will likely have plenty of opportunities when they graduate, Hosmann said. There's been an increase in the number of IS internships and jobs available but a smaller pool of qualified applicants to choose from, he said.
"We went through a slow period after Y2K and 9/11 when the economy was suffering, but that trend has clearly been turning around," Hosmann said of IS jobs. "We currently have 55 IS job openings within Cargill. Two years ago, there were probably fewer than 10 openings."
"This department has a long history of success dating back to the 1960s," Hilton said. "We've been successful because we've been willing to evolve and change as the industry has developed. With the changes we've put in place, I think we are right where we need to be to meet our students' needs and the needs of the industry."
UW-Eau Claire's IS department will offer the following programs beginning in fall 2006:
For more information about the IS department and its new academic programs, contact Dr. Thomas Hilton, chair of the IS department, at (715) 836-3416 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Details of the new program requirements are available online.
- UW-Eau Claire News Bureau