AT&T is introducing a new degree program that will teach the skills needed to attain jobs at the telecommunication giant. Working with online education company Udacity, which has helped popularize the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) massive open online courses, the new "NanoDegree" will be offered online.
According to Rolfe Winkler, who writes for The Wall Street Journal, the NanoDegree will involve less than a year of coursework and cost around $200 a month. It will focus on entry-level software skills and some NanoDegree graduates will receive paid internships from AT&T.
AT&T has committed to hiring 100 graduates of its NanoDegree program. It is the only company to do so. Sebastian Thrun, Udacity's founder, says there are more planned. Appearing at the New York Times Next New World Conference, he added that no higher education accrediting entity has recognized the new coursework.
"The intent is that this becomes an industry-wide platform," said Thrun in an email, pointing out that while AT&T is the only company that Udacity has asked to commit jobs, others that include Cloudera, Autodesk and Salesforce.com have endorsed the degree.
Other large companies are already helping train their employees. Cisco, Microsoft, and even McDonald's Hamburger University provide education for their employees. But Udacity is a bit different with a broader vision to give people access to credentials that can enable them to be recognized by other employers, as well.
So, is a NanoDegree going to be the new college degree? According to Gregory Ferestein, reporter for Venture Beat, the answer is "yes". He defines the NanoDegree as a "lifelong learning portfolio that would be widely recognized by the tech industry and far cheaper to obtain".
"We need to take what now exists as a dumb, static document and turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person's skills, expertise, and experience," wrote Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman.
Last year, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Thrun announced a new consortium of businesses that would make up the Open Education Alliance. The businesses involved agreed to recognize industry-focused skills credentials.
"It's a failure of the community college system, the California state system, and the University of California system that that announcement was made," said Newsom, who believes California education should do more to address the widening skills gap.
Thrun says that early degrees will prepare the graduate for front-end web developing, back-end web developing, iOS mobile developing, Android mobile developer, or data analyzing.
The writer of this article, Gregory Ferenstein, decided to put Udacity to the test by taking both the Udacity and the Coursera data science track. He says that as far as raw coding skills, running basic regressions, determining patterns in big datasets, a comparison to his master's in mathematical behavioral sciences he got at UC-Irvine, the online courses were more than sufficient.