Similar to Esri's current "ArcGIS for Home Use" program ($100 per year for ArcView only and several extensions), please create an ArcGIS Server for Home / ArcSDE for Home Use program.
Some use cases:
Person wants to learn to be an ArcGIS Server Administrator / ArcSDE Administrator but has no access to the technology
Developer wants to learn more about Web Services but has no access to the technology
Current ArcGIS Server Administrator / ArcSDE Administrator wants to prep for newer release. Would be especially helpful for some orgs that are prevented from adopting new releases until they are security certified or market-tested by other orgs...
Former ArcGIS Server Administrator / ArcSDE Administrator wants to keep current with the technology
A student or career-changer wants to learn Esri technology but has no access to the technology
If distributing ArcGIS Server / ArcSDE media for educational purposes is unreasonable, consider a Cloud option. If third party licensing challenges arise with, for example, an Educational Amazon AMI offering, presents, perhaps such an AMI could be deployed on a Linux OS with PostgreSQL as a database. For commercial use AMIs, I believe Esri has only made two available, perhaps because these are the only ones they are able to freely distribute:
One using SQL Server Express as the RDBMS
An Enterprise offering using PostgreSQL for the RDBMS
Don't forget Oracle. Evidently ArcSDE 10.0 works with Oracle XE 11g. And Oracle makes most of its products freely available, even full Enterprise versions, for educational use. Could you partner with them to help Esri and its customers meet their respective education and training missions?
If Hybrid IT is increasingly our future (e.g. a mixture of on-premise data centers and cloud-sourced "maps and apps"), an educational Cloud offering may benefit Esri customers. Familiarity breeds adoption, preparedness, etc? Think of Malcolm Gladwell and Tipping Points.
For any of this to be effective, the ArcGIS for Home program should include a minimum of ArcEditor. Interested parties can vote for that option below:
Implementing some or all of the above ideas would help Esri better serve the educational, professional, and career needs of its customers. It's interesting to see the certification program take off. But how does one get certified if one doesn't have sufficient access to the technologies? This is a potential Win-Win. Great potential synergy with other educational efforts Esri has moved forward with. Keep up the good work and continue to unlock and expand the value in your ArcGIS for Home and Certification concepts. Hopefully others will vote and encourage Esri to do what seems to me to be in the best interests of both vendor and customer--being successful together.