This week, while preparing for a meeting, I was going through some of this years’ articles that are part of my “keep-in box”. A collection of articles, facts, figures, opinions and inputs somehow underpinning certain proposals and my work in general. I came across an article and a follow-up by Justin Bariso that appeared on the Inc. earlier this summer with the promising title: “Google’s Plan to Disrupt the College Degree Is Absolute Genius.” I remember them well, as I was already tempted to share my thoughts on them, beginning of September. Well, better late than never.
Both articles talk about Google’s announcement to launch a selection of professional courses that should teach candidates foundational skills and help them find employment immediately. I was very happy on one hand, as I am kind of “preaching” a more innovative approach to Higher Education and a real involvement of companies into the process for quite some time now. Secondly I was rather surprised why it took them so long and above all what was so freaking absolute genius about it. This may sound very arrogant, I agree, but please read me out…
First things first: We are talking about the Google Career Certificates. New courses with the same pedagogic architecture and the same MOOC delivery mode as the “Google IT support Certificate” on Coursera. The new certificates, rather than occupying one or multiple years of a students life, take just about six months to be completed. It is still not exactly clear how much they will cost, but as a comparative example, one of the most followed and before mentioned online certificates costs around 50$ per month of enrollment. Multiply that per 6 and you still get a smaller amount, than what you pay to purchase the mandatory reading list at a general Uni. In it’s perfect welfare manner, Google is apparently also promising a 100’000 needs-based scholarships, adding up to a few million dollars.
The articles cite Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google, stating that college degrees are too often out of reach for many Americans, and that one shouldn’t need a college degree to have economic security. How could one not agree with this. Than Walker goes on: “We need new, accessible job-training solutions, from enhanced vocational programs to online education.”
Let soliloquy begin
Now, this is the point in time during my reading, where two creatures unexpectedly materialize on my shoulders.
The angel on my right shoulder says: Of course Thomas, during these times of profound change, we need as many possible approaches to get and keep everybody in a fulfilling job!
The small devil on my left shoulder counters: Education, be it skills or knowledge based; be it online, offline or blended; be it vocational or academic; should not be done just to get a job!
I continue reading, while my two imaginary friends keep on having their private discussions.
Angel: Google claiming that these courses would “equip participants with the essential skills they need to get a job,” and so with “no degree or prior experience required to take the courses”, is indeed a very honorable thing to say or do, admit it!
Devil: These “new” courses could, one may argue, also be defined as a Neo-Taylorian approach for the contemporary 4.0 age and its Gig-economy. They do unfortunately not shift education or give it this desperately needed perspective of finally being able to offer a lifelong-learning-experience, to create a culture of open-mindedness or Socratian thirst for knowledge. These courses still mold people into “what-you-need-to-get-a-job-bullet-points“, while certifying them.
Angel: What do you mean? Just new words, probably with a cooler provider for the same tasks?
The articles read on as follows: “The truth is, traditional higher education may be necessary for some career paths, but for others it is neither necessary nor practical. Google’s alternative not only costs a fraction of a traditional college education, it can also be completed in far less time – and can better equip graduates for the jobs they’re seeking.”
Even the angel starts getting picky: I am sorry, but does this “truth” not falsly assume that everybody would attend university just to get a well-payed job after graduation?
Devil: Yeah, the writer furthermore and very dangerously so, suggests that a six month online course with enrollment certainty and no-needed-pre-requisit would be not only equal, but better than a university education.
By now I openly talk to my two shoulder-companions: Wow, both claims are furthermore given without providing any evidence that this is actually true!
Angel: Aren’t we all in awe of these I-am-proud-to-be-a-drop-out-and-therefore-successful stories?
Devil: … and also a bit fed up of it all, are we?
Me: Certain shortcuts are probably a notch too short, at least for me they are. I remember this sharp comeback given by Prof. Galloway in a discussion at NYU.
“Steve Jobs did such and such. Very good. Now, back to reality; Pretend you are not Steve Jobs…”Scott Galloway
I have always maintained, and continue to do so, that Higher Education is far too often out of sync with the “real world” and that the transmission of needed, not just transferable, short-term skills is clearly missing in order to accommodate the “hybird jobs” companies search employees for. We could probably all agree on that, no?
Devil, Angel: Yes, we can…
A University background and a degree are still, more than ever, a prerequisite for many jobs, even if Apple, IBM, Google and two articles of Inc. are saying it is not.
Students, as well as established employees, will unfortunately always face the bitter prospect that their existing skills will become obsolete at a certain point, often much earlier than wished. The linear ones they learned in university, as well as the one’s for that dream job (and certified by Google). Change, exponentially accelerated by computation, is perpetual and so is the need for “new skills”. Even the ones allowing you a well-payed position at GAFAM.
What Google is offering with their Career Certificates is cool and admirable, but not new. It could be seen as a Massive Open Online Course, a vocational skills training, a micro apprenticeship program or, my favorite, as a very smartly marketed talent acquisition strategy. That is the real freaking absolute genius about it!
Now, the mentioned articles continue that there would be a difference between a classic MOOC or apprenticeship, at let’s say UBS or Nestle, and the one offered by Google. ”Since it is a household name, its certificate can be easily recognized and accepted across companies and industries, much like a degree from a major university”.
It is true that Google is a known brand, no doubt about that, but to state that certification and accreditation with its clear rules of official international transferability would (or could) be the same is risky, to say the least.
What about inclusion?
To be honest, I do agree with the baseline of the articles. I like and personally promote the idea that companies have to play a much bigger role in Higher Education in the future. I am convinced that they will.
But… I do also know that this process of change does not necessarily have to be disruption. We’ve have come to know too much and payed way too much for it all, just to get rid of it.
Let’s rather talk about radical, unquestionable and complete inclusion, that would be start.
Bariso, J., Google Has a Plan to Disrupt the College Degree. (19.08.2020), Inc.: link
Bariso, J., Google’s Plan to Disrupt the College Degree Is Absolute Genius. (24.08.2020), Inc.: link
Galloway, S. & Rhule, S., NYU Stern Author Lecture Series: The Algebra of Happiness. (22.05.2019), video on Youtube: link