WHEN Hewlett-Packard found it needed fewer mechanical engineers and more software engineers, the company turned to retraining its employees rather than to layoffs.
Through a satellite TV program prepared by National Technological University (NTU), the mechanical engineers were taught software engineering and were kept on the team.
Lionel Baldwin, president of NTU, says the project, which was offered simultaneously to other firms as well, was an example of providing industry-targeted training.
NTU provides graduate-level engineering education right to the workplace through nationwide satellite. Students may watch a single course, take a few classes, or pursue a master's degree.
Courses offered are selected from the group's 43 member universities.
Through what Mr. Baldwin calls "cherry picking," students have access to the best courses from schools as diverse as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.
After courses are recorded on the home campus, they are aired on satellite 24 hours a day to be watched or taped by companies subscribing to the service. Students pursue assignments with individual professors on a correspondence basis.
The nonprofit organization was created in 1984 as a spinoff of the Colorado State University University Resource for Continuing Education program, which is celebrating its 25th year.
The satellite operation is the latest step in 20 years of video instruction, says Marcia Bankirer, assistant academic vice president for the program.
"This is the future of higher education," she adds. Ms. Bankirer says that interactive cable is another option being considered.
In the 1990-91 school year, NTU enrolled over 4,000 students in courses. Additionally, Baldwin says, almost 100,000 people watch noncredit short courses. By 1994, he predicts, the program will grant 250 degrees a year.
Video education benefits from easy access and a worker's ability to transfer jobs or move to a different city and be able to continue classes, viewing from another location.
NTU expects to slowly add more member universities and clients, Baldwin says. But it will continue teaching only engineering.
People in other fields are studying the concept to see if it will work for their disciplines, he says.
NTU is also pursuing arrangements with schools and clients in Latin America, Europe, and Japan. These deals, Baldwin says, "will be based on a two-way exchange. We don't want to just export American [teaching]."