Reporting on the connections between education and work

With Google’s latest push, a blending of industry and higher ed

Google’s new industry specializations were co-built by its experts and faculty at four top universities—part of a larger push to combine forces with higher education to drive economic mobility.
Google employees at work. (Courtesy of Google)

Google is making a bigger push into higher education, partnering with name-brand universities to offer more advanced credentials that build on its signature Career Certificates program. The four new industry specializations—for fields like construction management and financial analysis—were co-designed by Google’s technical experts and university faculty with subject matter expertise.

The specializations are open to anybody on Coursera’s platform, and typically cost several hundred dollars to complete.

“Never before has this combination of expertise been accessible to everyone in an affordable way, and you don’t need to apply,” says Lisa Gevelber, who founded and leads Grow with Google, the company’s external training arm.

It’s a blending of industry and academic expertise—with an eye toward helping more Americans get high-demand jobs—that Gevelber calls a tipping point for higher education.

James DeVaney, founding executive director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation, also sees this kind of “blended” approach as the future. Michigan partnered with Google in designing and offering its new specialization for public sector data analysts. The goal for the partners is two-fold: to expand opportunity in the field, especially for nontraditional learners, and to diversify and strengthen policymaking by increasing the range of practitioners with more advanced technical skills.

Higher education can’t fix those kinds of big “future of work” and societal challenges on their own, DeVaney told a columnist at Inside Higher Ed. “This is a big problem to solve and calls for our unique and combined perspectives on the changing job market, agile curriculum, and high-quality scalable learning,” he says.

Grow with Google is eager to offer more of that kind of blended learning.

“We’re hoping this announcement becomes the first of many such announcements where we can really partner with higher ed,” Gevelber says. “It’s these kinds of programs at scale that can really make a difference in economic opportunity.”

The ‘both, and’ solution

The details: The new specializations are more focused, advanced credentials that build on an initial Google career certificate. The one from Michigan, for example, is a four-course series that teaches the fundamentals of R programming, open-source public and survey data, data visualization, and practice using real-world data sets. It’s designed to take about five months to complete, with the others ranging from three to seven months.

The four new specializations are: 

Grow with Google previously worked with Johns Hopkins University to launch a specialization in Healthcare IT. Learners get a free trial and then must pay a $49 per month fee to pursue the specializations.

Photo by Kai Wenzel via Unsplash

Industry input: To ensure the specializations were teaching in-demand skills, Google had companies in its employer network, including Deloitte and Rocket Companies, review the curricula.

Deloitte has even shared the internal program it uses to test for mastery of SQL and R programming—which was then used to vet both the Google data analytics certificate and the new specialization in public sector data analysis, Gevelber says.

Who benefits: Leaders at Google started to develop the idea for more advanced training when they started digging into data on its certificates and saw that a lot of participants already had college degrees. 

  • More than 100,000 people have graduated from Google’s Career Certificates program in the United States thus far.
  • And about 40% have college degrees, Gevelber says.

Across all U.S. graduates, 75% report they found a new job, higher pay, or a promotion within six months of completing the program. Those early experiences have shown Google how powerful the combination of a degree and more specific technical certification can be, Gevelber says.

“It wasn’t just a degree or a certificate,” she says. “Maybe the best solution for a lot of folks is both.”

Google is still very much committed to expanding nontraditional pathways into high-growth tech jobs—and the specializations don’t require degrees or any formal college experience. But the company, Gevelber says, does increasingly see embedding in higher education as a way to increase economic opportunity as well.

Credit for certs

Earning credit: The new specializations don’t carry college credit, although the University of Illinois does give learners the option of combining the open online courses with an enhanced for-credit component on its own platform.

Some colleges, though, have begun issuing credit toward degrees for Google’s certificates. The University of North Texas, for example, will allow students to count four certificates from Google and one from Meta toward an online bachelor’s degree completion program it offers through Coursera.

And the North Carolina Community College system recently developed credit-bearing courses around Google’s certificates in project management and data analytics and made them available to all 58 colleges. The move follows Google’s decision last year to make its certificates free to all community colleges in the country.

It’s part of a larger push by Big Tech, including Amazon and Microsoft, to embed industry training and certifications in community college offerings. “It’s hard for everyone to keep up with the changing job market—employers have realized that and education institutions are realizing that too,” says Gevelber.

Parting thought: For that reason, she expects tech and higher education partnerships to continue to grow.

“This work we’re doing with universities solves a problem not just for people looking to advance in their career,” she says. “It also solves a problem for American businesses.”

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