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An interesting turn for Microsoft academic partners

Microsoft's new academic partner program offers benefits high-school and college students.


An interesting turn for Microsoft academic partners
By Ed Tittel
LANWrights, Inc.

For years, Microsoft has made its Authorized Academic Training Partner (AATP) program available to participating high schools, community colleges, trade schools and universities at no charge. As of this year, the program has been discontinued, despite its widespread adoption and popularity. Over the years, AATP has provided students at many institutions easy and affordable access to Microsoft curriculum and training materials, as well as nearly unlimited access to Microsoft software, products and supporting materials such as TechNet Plus.

The replacement is a new program known as the Microsoft IT Academy Program (for which no ready acronym has yet emerged). Its features include:

  • A $5,000 annual program membership fee at the post-secondary level (colleges, universities, and trade schools)
  • A $1,500 annual program membership for high schools. High schools that pay the higher $5,000 fee become eligible for a higher level of benefits, commensurate with higher-education outlets.
  • Schools with multiple locations must pay a fee for each location where Microsoft training will be offered.
  • College-level instructors must now take and pass the exams related to the courses they teach. This was not a requirement in the AATP era).

That said, Microsoft touts the following benefits for the new program:

  • Faculty training: online or classroom instruction on current and pending curriculum items. (In other words, participation in Microsoft's normal train-the-trainer programs.)
  • Early access to products and information: Member institutions get TechNet Plus, which includes all active beta software releases, plus access to technical training and certification exam information.
  • Faculty community support: Microsoft plans to maintain a private online community for information sharing, including online seminars, chat rooms and reports on best practices and classroom successes.
  • Student community support: Microsoft offers co-branding education portals with its own and the institution's logo and colors to keep students informed and give them opportunities to interact with faculty and fellow students.
  • Marketing support: Access to special Microsoft information kits, promotions and advertising templates to help institutions make the most of program membership.
  • Licenses and discounts: Free software licenses for classroom use, with discounted prices for Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) materials and cert exam discounts on specified exams for faculty and students.

Although these benefits appear substantial (and include some noticeable enhancements and improvements over AATP offerings--especially the bottom four items in the preceding list), they do come at a cost. Early reaction from institutions, especially high schools and community colleges, has been mixed: larger institutions appear ready, willing and able to shoulder the costs involved, but smaller institutions (especially those that depend largely on public funding) may be forced to eschew the program because of the costs.

Keep an eye on community colleges and trade schools in your neighborhood to see which ones decide to adopt the Microsoft IT Academy Program and which ones decide not to participate. I sincerely hope this does not mean less access for low-income or entry-level students seeking certification training because community colleges in particular have been a "best buy" in Microsoft cert training for years. Only time will tell. I can only hope that most institutions decide to pony up the necessary $5,000 and continue to offer Microsoft courses -- and perhaps more important -- access to software and systems for hands-on experience for their student bodies.

For more information on this topic, please see:

Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series, and has worked on over 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell, and Sun related topics.

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