HIGHER ED DIGEST: Google just launched its campaign to replace computer science higher ed curriculum

Google announced last month that it will invest $100 million into a fund to support training and entry-level job access to emerging computer science professionals.

It is a move that, while far off from the traditional liberal arts model of higher education, is the start of how companies will lure workers to avoid college education debt and lock into long-term relationships with tech employers.

From Google CEO Sundar Pichai:

That’s why I’m excited to announce a new $100 million Google Career Certificates Fund. The goal is to enable Social Finance to reach more than 20,000 American workers. This investment in America’s future has the potential to drive $1 billion in wage gains.

This fund is a new kind of financing model. We’ll invest Google capital and Google.org grants and provide our Career Certificate program. Social Finance will provide funding to nonprofit partners like Merit America and Year Up, who in turn will provide services like career coaching, living stipends and job placement support. And we’ll connect students to an employer consortium of more than 150 companies who are looking to hire workers with these skills.

It’s all designed around student success. They will receive all of this at no upfront cost. And will only pay it back once they find a job earning at least $40,000 a year. Social Finance will then redistribute those repayments to future learners, making this model more sustainable.

Some outlets are embracing the move. From INC Magazine:

Over four-and-a-half years — the average amount of time it takes to complete an undergraduate degree — total tuition comes to between $45k and $171k. Meanwhile, starting salaries are mostly in the $50k range, much of which is eaten up by housing, life essentials, and student loan payments. That doesn’t leave much room to get ahead financially.

Compare this to Google Professional Certificates, highly regarded in the tech field, which run around $230 or so per course. For many, the choice is a no-brainer. While some sources argue these are best used to amplify an undergraduate degree — not replace it — the low cost to entry and Google’s connection to more than 140 companies make it easy to get your foot in the tech door.

The move also presents how this kind of training in this specific industry can change the face of the tech industrial map. From The Street:

The pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for tech in more than one way. 

Most apparently, the pandemic has accelerated the move from analog to digital, as more Americans than ever work remotely.

A recent report by the Conference Board showed that over four in 10 listings for higher educated white-collar jobs at tech companies are based outside of California, Oregon and Washington. 

States like Texas, Virginia and New York are increasing in popularity for tech work with Austin, Texas, particularly popular for new tech work. 

What does this mean for colleges and universities and their computer science programs and pipelines? If they continue along the path of recruiting working adults and recent high school graduates with the promise of financial mobility, they may want to read this as a cautionary tale. From the New York Times:

Sandra Massie, a single mother in Virginia, had worked for nine years in restaurant jobs when she saw an online ad for Merit America. The skills training was based on the Google IT support certificate course, which she completed online while still working at a restaurant chain.

But, Ms. Massie said, the peer learning with students from similar backgrounds and one-on-one sessions with coaches were crucial. “It’s a network of support that really gets you believing that this type of change is possible in your life,” she said.

With the nonprofit’s help, Ms. Massie got a job offer in 2019, before she finished her training. She now works for a software consulting firm, Intact Technology, and is transitioning from a tech support role to managing small-team projects for clients.

Today, Ms. Massie, 34, earns $75,000 a year, about twice as much as in her last restaurant job. She has health care and vacation time, and the company contributes to her 401(k) retirement plan. She has set up a college savings plan for her 9-year-old daughter and owns a home.

“My life has changed a lot,” Ms. Massie said.

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