Feds have mixed views on value of academic credentials

To many government managers, on-the-job IT experience counts more than formal education. Yet they think a degree is a good predictor of ability.

'Experience is a more important factor than education,' said an Agriculture Department computer specialist in Washington.

'There are people with a wealth of experience who don't have degrees but they are very valuable,' said a Defense Department information manager at Fort Belvoir, Va.

Sixty-percent of participants in a GCN telephone survey agreed that experience is more important; only 9 percent dissented.

Nearly a third, 31 percent, subscribed to a middle ground: They said experience and education count equally.

IT specialists 'need a solid background in both education and practical experience,' said a systems analyst at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Some said that IT specialists today need skills that go beyond technology.

'Experienced IT people don't have the breadth of business knowledge,' said an Agriculture Department systems analyst in Beltsville, Md.

Participants in the survey were split on whether IT specialists need a degree.

For example, 55 percent said academic degrees are a good predictor of job ability for IT specialists; 45 percent disagreed. And 58 percent said at least a bachelor's degree was important for lower- or middle-level IT managers.

'I feel very strongly that a degree is needed,' said a General Services Administration contracting officer in Arlington, Va.

'You don't need an academic degree,' countered a Defense Logistics Agency operations research manager in Richmond, Va. 'You do need a background in technology.'

It was a different story on questions relating to educational background for upper-level IT executives. A hefty 80 percent said top execs should have at least a bachelor's degree.

At the same time, some said that upper-level executives need more than a degree.

'The executives have good educational backgrounds but for the most part don't have the practical experience,' said a Treasury Department IT specialist in Washington.

More than half of respondents felt that citing a diploma mill degree is a form of fraud, but only 21 percent called it a firing offense.

'It's unprincipled to exaggerate your credentials,' said a Health and Human Services EDI coordinator in Phoenix.

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