Cutting out college?
Online certificates aim to prepare students for well-paying jobs
Jonathan Cartagena used to manage office building coffee shops in Massachusetts where employees could take a break or hold meetings over lattes. But when COVID-19 lockdowns sent workers home, Cartagena’s job disappeared, and he’s not convinced it will come back. He said he wants to get a job in tech before his unemployment benefits run out. He doesn’t have a college degree or experience in tech, but he recently signed up for a training course that promises to solve those problems: Google’s certification program.
Google on March 11 announced it expanded its online certificates to include courses in data analytics, project management, and user experience design, all career fields with entry-level salaries above $50,000 per year. Its certificates join a stream of similar offerings from other companies that aim to prepare learners for in-demand, well-paying jobs while sidestepping the high costs and time commitment of college. It’s unclear if the certifications will replace bachelor’s degrees, but a growing number of employers recognize them as sufficient qualification for entry-level jobs.
Google isn’t the first to offer courses and certifications as a faster, cheaper alternative to a college degree. The average private college tuition costs $35,087 a year and in-state public tuition $9,687 a year, compared to Google’s $39 a month for approximately six months. Other popular certifications on online class provider Coursera include a cloud development course from IBM and social media marketing from Facebook. Apple offers courses in its coding language, Swift, and a certification exam through education publishing company Pearson VUE. Graduates of these programs get digital diplomas or badges they can add to their LinkedIn pages and resumes.
Many certificates currently function as supplements, rather than replacements for college degrees. Google offers its certifications to companies that want to offer more training for employees, and more than 100 community colleges include its IT courses in their curriculum. Apple has a free training course to help teachers incorporate its coding curriculum into their classes.
Marc Cenedella, CEO of career advice site Ladders, Inc., told Business Insider that college still offers something short certifications can’t: proof graduates can focus and commit for four years. Even if certificates offer the same technical skills, employers may prefer applicants with a degree. “I think it will be tough for anything to replace, even over the next 10 years, the signaling impact that college has today for most employers,” Cenedella said.
But a growing number of large companies no longer require applicants to have four-year degrees for entry-level jobs. Apple, IBM, Penguin Random House, and Bank of America all skip the degree requirement. Google has promised to treat its certificates the same as college diplomas in its hiring process and has recruited more than 130 employers that commit to do the same, including Anthem, Walmart, and Verizon.
Cartagena has signed up for Google’s project management course and begun working his way through videos and homework assignments. He hopes the program will provide enough qualifications to land interviews, along with his skills from past jobs. “It to me is about making sure I get a job,” Cartagena said. “My fingers crossed and see what happens.”
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