Thursday, June 19, 2014

NanoDegree: Higher education in 6 months

Could an online degree earned in six to 12 months bring a revolution to higher education? This week, AT&T and Udacity, the online education company in US founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, announced something meant to be very small: the "NanoDegree." 

At first blush, it doesn't appear like much. For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.

Yet this most basic of efforts may offer more than simply adding an online twist to vocational training. It may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream.

Intriguingly, it suggests that the best route to democratizing higher education may require taking it out of college. "We are trying to widen the pipeline," said Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. "This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business." Thrun sounded more ambitious about the ultimate goal: "It is like a university," he told me, "built by industry."

American higher education is definitely in need of some disruption. Once the leader in educational attainment, the US has been overtaken by a growing number of its peers.

Education still offers children from disadvantaged families their best chance at climbing the ladder of success. David H Autor of the MIT reports in a new study that in 2012 a typical family of graduates from a four-year college earned about $58,000 more than a family of high school graduates. But this very statistic underscores the depth of the nation's educational deficit. One reason for the enormous payoff from a college degree, which is almost twice as big as it was in 1979, Autor finds, is that too few young Americans — despite a bump in enrollment right after the Great Recession — ever earn one.

Employers have been complaining for years about a lack of skilled workers to fill jobs. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the skill level of the American work force is slipping dangerously behind other nations. And yet despite the promise of a higher wage, only about half of high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college in 2012 — compared with 80% of high-income graduates. Worse, only a small share of them manage to finish.

Source: The Times of India, June 19, 2014

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