Confronted by a world-wide shortage of expert software designers and disappointed with the output of graduates from traditional universities, leading high-tech companies decided to take matters into their own hands. The controversial result: A new, for-profit school called Northface University.

Northface aims to graduate legions of software developers with more useful skills than established colleges can provide--in barely half the time. In the process, the founders and backers of Northface University may be developing a whole new category in higher education: the so-called "destination school."

Northface's strategy is to pare away liberal arts and...

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