‘A tipping point for higher ed’: Google launches new, low-cost online programs for high-demand jobs

BY Sydney LakeOctober 13, 2022, 1:15 PM

The company signage at the Asia-Pacific headquarters of Google in Singapore, as seen in August 2022. (Photographer: Lauryn Ishak—Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Higher education has benefits ranging from career development to skill building to network development—but it certainly can come at a high cost. The average cost of college in the U.S. is more than $35,000 per year, according to the Education Data Initiative. And these students average about $37,000 in student loan debt.

Lisa Gevelber, founder of Grow with Google, came to the tech giant with a proposition: Help people “realize their full economic potential” by offering low-cost educational programs focused on high-demand industries. In 2017, Gevelber saw her idea come to life when Google committed $1 billion toward this Grow with Google mission, and the following year the tech giant launched the Google Career Certificates.

These online educational programs are focused on helping learners land jobs that are in high demand, including in digital marketing, IT support, data analytics, project management, and UX design. More than 300,000 people have graduated from Google’s Career Certificates program, and 75% of these grads report they’ve found a new job, higher pay, or a promotion within six months of completing of the program.

Today, Grow with Google takes this program a step further by developing university-industry partnerships. Grow with Google tells Fortune exclusively of the launch of its partnerships with top universities to offer specialized career certificates. These specialized programs build on Grow with Google’s existing programs, but offer more industry-specific take on the material.

“For people who have a particular passion for a particular field or really want to stand out as a candidate, it’s an amazing opportunity to get that very industry-specific from those experts,” Gevelber, founder of Grow with Google, tells Fortune. Gaining this industry-specific knowledge is also relatively inexpensive. Access to Coursera (where the programs are hosted) costs $49 per month, and these programs can typically be completed in two-to-five months.

The specializations include: 

“This is really a tipping point for higher ed,” Gevelber says. “Educational institutions have always been the place that people went from the world of classroom learning to the world of work. But what we’re seeing here is higher ed really adopting more innovative, flexible models to make sure that students of all sorts have access to the knowledge to be successful in the workforce.”

Why Google is focusing on specialized programs

Data analytics is one of the most in-demand skills sought by employers, but Michigan and Google wanted the Google Career Certificate in data analytics to be targeted to an industry that needs skilled data professionals: the public sector. 

“The reason we’re doing that is to strengthen public administration and policy making, and ultimately to improve decision making for the public good,” James DeVaney, associate vice provost for academic innovation at the University of Michigan, tells Fortune, which ranks the school as having the No. 1 data science master’s program in the U.S. “We need more professionals in this space with the right skills and together have the diversity that represents their constituencies.”

In the four-course program, students learn about data analytics tools and are challenged with real-world scenarios in which data analytics is used. Data ethics is also a main focus of the program. In fact, the last course in the sequence is dedicated to the subject.

“What we’ve seen over the past decade is a proliferation of courses and programmatic offerings around data science and data analytics, but often they’ve neglected the data ethics component of that work,” DeVaney says. “We’re trying to expose learners to the different tools that they can apply with real scenarios.”

Columbia University also chose to partner with Grow with Google to provide a depth of focus in project management. 

“Project management is a broad field, and this offering provides learners with skills and tools needed to break into and stay relevant in the world of construction engineering and management,” Soulaymane Kachani, Columbia University’s senior vice provost, tells Fortune. “This five-course specialization will cover the major facets of construction management, including project initiation and planning, scheduling techniques and procedures, cost estimating and control, and construction project financials.”

What to expect

These specializations are targeted toward working professionals who need flexibility to study independently. Students should be ready to commit a few hours of study per week to the course, which can take just a few months to complete. 

The courses were developed by industry experts at Google, along with faculty at the hosting universities. Industry employers were also asked for input on important course content. 

“This really ensures that our certificate graduates get access to great jobs,” Gevelber says. “We’re teaching them the skills we know employers want to hire for.”

Upon completion, learners also have access to a online board that will show them only jobs that they’re qualified for after finishing the program. This includes job listings from Google’s employer consortium, which is a group of 150 employers from across the country that specifically hire graduates of Google Career Certificate programs. Google itself is also part of the consortium, and often hires certificate graduates, Gevelber says.

“At the end of the day, no one is taking a class to take a class,” she adds. “They’re all taking this class to get a real economic outcome for their family. We want to ensure they have the skills they need and employers are laying and waiting to hire them.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and business analytics, as well as the doctorate in education programs and MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).