Are Colleges and Universities About to be Schooled?

Are Colleges and Universities About to be Schooled?

Google’s recent launch of a selection of short, affordable professional courses for students who want to learn how to perform specific jobs has seemingly escaped the attention of the masses. I believe, however, that it should be a wake-up call, particularly to colleges and universities. Google’s venture is likely to transform higher education as we know it, and there will be profound implications for the education sector.

The newly revealed development, “Google Career Certificates,” aims to provide students with a foundational knowledge base and skill set that will help them find work immediately. Instead of taking four years to finish one’s studies, as in the traditional university degree program, the Google option will take about six months.

Google has gone even a step farther: it has let the world know that, in its own hiring decisions, it will treat the career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree. It joins the likes of Apple, IBM, Bank of America, Hilton, and Penguin Random House, who also have eliminated that requirement from job applicants. Now Google is seeking other major corporations to follow suit and declares that, so far, it has had positive responses from at least 50 large corporations.

Google is also funding 100,000 needs-based scholarships to support applicants interested in signing up. The program’s cost is not yet determined, but the online “Google IT Support Professional Certificate,” available through Coursera, is $49 a month for each month enrolled. This suggests that a six-month program would cost just a few hundred dollars.

Google’s move is a tsunami, in my view, and it’s headed for America’s higher-education Institutions. In full disclosure, I serve as a trustee of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, which has seen impressive gains in academic rigor, physical plant, and student population over the past decade-plus. And, like many parents, I believed in the benefits of the four-year degree when my child graduated high school. In fact, since the incubation of the modern university in the 11th and 12th centuries, parents have believed that in-classroom and on-campus exposure are necessary components of the education process. We have regarded this experience as essential for our sons’ and daughters’ maturation — an opportunity to learn independence and build networks that will help them when they start their careers.

What is there to worry about? Well, according to the most recent Sallie Mae survey, “How America Pays for College” (2019), most families place financial concerns ahead of academic standing when considering colleges. Some 8 of 10 families say cost is king and governs their decision-making. With the average private institution topping approximately $36,000 per year for tuition only, and many over the $50,000 mark, is this not a field that is ripe for disruption? Certainly, we hear complaints that colleges and universities do not properly prepare students for the skills they will need in the real world. And there is an entire generation of young people who will tell you their lives are on hold — no possibility for their own homes, marriage, children — because their school loan debt takes large bites out of every paycheck and will continue to do so for years to come.

Is it time to hit the “reset” button on higher education, or has Google already activated it? Just as drone technology eventually will revolutionize how products are delivered, and 3D printing has the potential to let us manufacture our own goods at home, the heft and pluck of the Google muscle will cause us to rethink how we educate our own. Online courses have been with us for well over a decade, but they have been largely controlled by the universities and colleges. This is different. Google has just challenged our longstanding assumptions about schooling our young adults. Now it’s time for higher education institutions to parry. And that means a hard look at reality, followed by intense discussion about the future.




  • Claire Fracker

    Great article and certainly does make a person ponder on which avenue is the best benefit to our youth when seeking education to help them not only attain the required skills but also to start a career without a huge financial debt hanging over their heads.

    September 12, 2020 at 6:09 am
    • Thank you Claire. Canadian schools are still a bargain relative to the cost here in the US .

      September 20, 2020 at 12:34 pm
  • Lorraine Bukowski

    My son and daughter both studied theater in college, and I’m guessing Google won’t have a certificate for that. And between my daughter’s classmates and instructors, she graduated with a network that helped her start working right away. My two also learned to fend for themselves while away at college. Yet, they both have astronomical school loans, as do most of their friends. Google’s certificate program probably will appeal to many people for that reason. At least it gives young people an option to focus on developing the skills they will need for their field of choice without having to take required courses in other subjects, and they can start on their chosen careers sooner.

    September 12, 2020 at 8:01 pm
    • Thanks Lorraine. I will leave it to more creative minds than mine to decipher a way to do theater via online learning. Your son and daughter have made you proud, cost notwithstanding. Appreicate you weighing in.

      September 20, 2020 at 12:37 pm
  • Anonymous

    Sadly, the on-campus college experience is certainly being tested at the moment. Hopefully we reach a point where we get the benefits from both learning paths. Google’s initiative is impressive and a great opportunity to develop new skills for younger and older workers. Like myself, many of my friends were unaware of Google’s program. Thanks for shedding light on this Chuck, great article!  

    September 13, 2020 at 6:26 pm
    • Thank Anonymous ! Happy that the article brought you this new information.

      September 20, 2020 at 12:38 pm
  • Joanne Duguay

    There is certainly a lot of food for thought here. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I missed this bit of new information on education, but I will use our fabulous summer as my excuse for having stepped back from the daily barrage of news in this new Pandemic age in which we are living. The Pandemic has brought about change and will continue to do so, in every sector of our society, from the social, to cultural, to environmental, and absolutely, educational. Is change good? Is this model the change needed? As a retired educator, I am still a firm believer in the current model of university/college after high school. In Canada, fortunately, our public universities, while not inexpensive, are nontheless affordable. Does Google need to have its hand in every single facet of our lives? I am sceptical, honestly. I appreciate learning of this “new venture” and will follow its progress, while hoping that what Google is proposing and/implementing, WILL first and foremost, be a much needed wake-up to our all our institutions of higher learning, that THEY need to look at how they can do better.

    September 13, 2020 at 9:37 pm
  • Joanne, thank you. You are right about the afforability factor in Canada. And i appreiciate your comment about the all – pervasiveness of mother Google. So true !

    September 20, 2020 at 12:40 pm

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