Microsoft Makes Office 365 Free For Students -- If Their Schools Buy It For Teachers

The program, called Student Advantage, gives students access to Office 365 ProPlus, which is sold as a monthly subscription but can be installed on up to five devices and also works offline. Microsoft says some 35,000 academic institutions worldwide are eligible to take part in the Student Advantage program.

This could add up to big cost savings for schools because for non-education customers, Office 365 ProPlus costs $144 per user per year annually for access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath and Access.

[Related: Microsoft Stakes Its Claim As Top Dog In Enterprise Cloud Market ]

"Student Advantage makes it easy for qualifying institutions to provide students with the latest version of full Office at school and at home," Anthony Salcito, vice president of worldwide education at Microsoft, said in a blog post Tuesday.

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Microsoft was already providing schools with free access to cloud apps through its Office 365 for Education program, which launched last summer and is currently used by some 110 million students worldwide, Salcito said in the blog post.

Office 365 for Education's lowest tier, A2, lets students use SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Exchange Online -- which aren't part of Student Advantage -- for free if the their school has paid for faculty and staff licenses.

Getting more students familiar with Office 365 may be good for the economy, too, IDC said in a Microsoft-commissioned white paper published Tuesday.

IDC scoured some 14.6 million job postings from April to September 2013 and found that Microsoft Office skills were No. 3 on the list of 20 most sought-after skills for high-paying jobs. PowerPoint and Word were ranked 11th and 13th on the list, according to IDC.

"In essence, students today need job readiness skills, not job training," Salcito said in the blog post. "And the technology industry can and should play a very important role in rebooting education to address this shift."

Microsoft also has competitive reasons for giving Office 365 for free to students: It's battling Google for the hearts and minds in the education market. Since some of today's students are going to be making IT purchasing decisions in the future, Microsoft has plenty of reasons to get them familiar with its offerings.

"If Microsoft does not get to them young enough, they will become reliant on other products and insist on bringing them into the workplace," Terry Boyer, CEO of Indianapolis-based Microsoft partner Boyer Technologies, said in an email.