Education: Summa Cum Laude In Grand Theft Auto?

Once the domain of dropouts who couldn't stay away from the computer long enough to attend class, the videogame industry is fast developing its own branch of academia. Nearly 200 colleges worldwide now offer coursework in videogame development, and roughly two dozen more offer comprehensive programs.

Among them is Southern Methodist University, which will open its doors this week to its first class of gamers. For $37,000, the 31 students in the 18-month certificate program will take classes in programming, animation and physics while creating their own game prototypes. The program's director, David Najjab, says the recent development of videogame schools will revolutionize gaming in the same way 1960s film schools expanded the profession of moviemaking. "I truly think it will be the media of the 21st century," he says. But just because top gaming grads often earn up to $70,000 straight out of school doesn't mean that hours spent shooting cops in Grand Theft Auto is necessarily the best preparation. Rusty Rueff, head of human resources at Electronic Arts, says that aspiring developers need to have a firm grip on linear algebra and geometry as well as a talent for design and programming. In short, students with an eye on a videogame degree would do well to set the controller aside and spend some time with that medium from an