'TekXam' supplements a liberal-arts diploma

Question: One spring morning your senior year you wake up realizing that your degree in history just won't wow computer-obsessed employers - but you really do know computers. What do you do? Answer: Take the "TekXam."

That's exactly what a small but growing number of liberal-arts colleges are telling their seniors.

A five-hour online test, the TekXam is no piece of cake, say those who have taken it. It covers Internet research, general computing concepts, Web design, presentation, spreadsheets, word processing, and legal and ethical issues in technology. It is also the first test of its kind to be offered to undergraduates as a credential in addition to their degree.

Pilot tests began in 1998. The first full-scale exam was held this spring for students at 30 colleges in 13 states. California's university system is intrigued, as are 200 other institutions, including some in Germany, Australia, Singapore, India, Britain, and Switzerland.

"It was originally designed for liberal-arts majors," says Nicole Schermerhorn, director of test administration at the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, a Richmond- based fund-raising body. "We've found that schools are using it as service to their students to help them get a job and to enhance their rsums."

Peter Ewell, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in Boulder, Colo., says the TekXam is a "bellwether" of a greater emphasis on student performance.

"Students are taking things one at a time, not putting it together. TekXam is an example of the employment community saying, 'We need a certification you can do things that your transcript won't give us.' "

It was perfect for James Reese. Last spring, the business major took the TekXam at his alma mater, Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk. He says it helped him land his job as a compliance examiner with the computer-intensive Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington.

"If you are a liberal-arts major it doesn't necessarily equate with technology," he says. "A test like this helps demonstrate you really are knowledgeable, you really do know computers."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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