Big Tech’s Two-Year College Push

Community college enrollments continue to shrink. But big tech is expanding its collaboration with the sector and other open-access colleges, increasingly putting real money and support behind those partnerships.

Microsoft last week rolled out an ambitious campaign with two-year colleges to help train and recruit 250,000 people for the U.S. cybersecurity workforce by 2025. (More on that announcement, below.)

The next day, the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities announced that Google’s four career certificates will be offered across the system. All of the state’s community colleges next year will offer a credit-bearing course that incorporates the Google IT Support certification. The system also will feature non-credit short-term training through the partnership.

We have employers that are looking to hire individuals with these digital skills,” said Ned Lamont, Connecticut’s Democratic governor, “and our community college system responded quickly by entering into a partnership with Google.”

Grow with Google, the company’s arm that runs the certificate programs, also told CNBC that it’s making the certificates free to all U.S. community colleges and career high schools. Google already is working with JFF to help 100 community colleges offer its IT support certification.

The big idea: The flurry of news comes amid a broader skills-training push by the tech industry, which is scrambling to hire workers and to boost low diversity numbers. The representation of Latino and Black workers in tech is about half their share of the overall U.S. workforce, according to CompTIA. Women hold just 26 percent of tech jobs.

The numbers are even worse in cybersecurity, said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and vice chair. “Today 82.4 percent of the country’s cybersecurity jobs are held by men and 80 percent are held by people who are white,” he said in a blog post.

“We need to build a cybersecurity workforce that is both larger and more diverse. Community colleges are uniquely situated to help the country do both.”

Helping community colleges move faster

Microsoft will need to do more with four-year institutions to close the cybersecurity gap. But the campaign’s focus is on community colleges, which Smith said are flexible, affordable, and diverse. Two-year colleges are located nearly everywhere, he said, and with “targeted assistance” can move quickly to address the nation’s severe cybersecurity workforce shortage

“Many of these open jobs don’t require a four-year college degree,” Smith said. “You can qualify by earning an industry-recognized certificate or by getting a certificate or associate degree from a community college.”

Why it matters: The Education Design Lab recently published a guide for community colleges looking to team up with employers and embed related credentials and certifications into their academic programs.

“More and more community colleges are realizing the critical need to create stackable credentials that support individuals to gain entry to great jobs on a career pathway with multiple opportunities for advancement,” said Lisa Larson, who recently left the helm at Eastern Maine Community College to lead EDL’s Community College Growth Engine Fund.

The growing ties between big tech and community colleges is a signal of the sector’s value and impact, Larson said.

“It also signifies these organizations understand partnerships are critical to help community colleges align their curriculum and training to emerging technologies and high-demand skills and competencies,” she said.

A focus on needs, from the ground up

Beginning in January, Microsoft visited with staff and students at 14 community colleges across six states, to get a better sense of their needs. It found that community colleges need cutting-edge curriculum material, more training for faculty on emerging threats in cybersecurity, and expanded financial aid and learning services to help more students pursue cybersecurity degrees and certificates.

The company’s initial commitment includes:

  • Making curriculum material available for free to all the U.S. community colleges.
  • Offering training for faculty at 150 community colleges.
  • Providing scholarships and other resources to 25,000 students.

Several other large tech companies have ramped up their support for community colleges, regional four-year universities, and HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions: 

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) in May announced plans to expand its partnership with scores of community colleges by setting a goal with the Texas Association of Community Colleges to train and certify at least 50,000 students in AWS Cloud skills by the end of 2023.

  • Salesforce continues to grow its Trailhead online learning platform, which offers free training on the company’s customer relation management (CRM) software, as well as other tech and business skills. Salesforce partners with more than 700 colleges worldwide, and last year announced that Santa Monica College and UCLA Extension will use Trailhead to teach customer service skills.

  • HubSpot is a software company focused on inbound sales, marketing, and customer service. It offers free software and personalized support to 1,800 professors around the world. HubSpot is expanding its partnerships with public universities, HBCUs, and two-year institutions, including Wake Technical Community College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

  • Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, is part of a coalition of tech companies and experts focused on pathways into tech jobs for underrepresented students. The company this week announced two $5 million grants for teaching computer science at the California State University, Dominguez Hills and Georgia State University. The coalition also will give $5 million each to the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Florida.

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