By A.L Ashkenaz
Last month, Google made an announcement that could potentially disrupt the top universities and allow for more opportunities for BAME students. They are going to launch a new line of Career Certificates. These online courses are expected to take about six months to complete and will be considered (at least by Google) as equivalent to a four-year degree.
These certificates are in some of the high paying fields like Data Analytics, Project Management, and User Experience Design. The students would learn essential skills from Google employees themselves - skills that would greatly increase their chances of employment. There’s no college degree or experience required and they are expected to cost a fraction of the price of traditional degrees in top universities.
While they didn’t specify how much they would cost, Inc estimates that they could be around $300, which is minuscule compared to how much some of the top STEM universities cost, with some charging up to nearly $69,000 a year (not including other necessities like rent, books, transport, etc.).
In their blog post, Google stated “you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security.” There is no doubt that these Career Certificates are aimed at students who couldn’t afford to attend a traditional four-year degree in a university without being burdened by student loans.
The student loan debt in the US is a whopping $1.6 trillion, which is one of the highest types of debt in the country. An average student graduates with a shiny new degree and a debt of nearly $30,000. This debt follows them far into adulthood. A survey by Bankrate shows that over half of borrowers have postponed major life events like buying a car or getting married because their debt was too high.
This student debt disproportionately hits the Black and Hispanic students. According to an article by the Business Insider, 87% of Black students have debt, compared to 60% of white students. Furthermore, an average Black student has $7400 more debt than white students.
That is why these Career Certificates could prove to be a great opportunity for BAME students, allowing those - especially from underprivileged backgrounds - to graduate without being burdened. According to Google, 58% of their IT certificate learners “identify as Black, Latino, female, or veteran.“ This is a step in the right direction since even with Affirmative Action, which is a policy used to promote more minority students in college, Black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented in top universities now than they were in 1980, according to a report by the New York Times.
This culture of racial exclusion goes past college and into Silicon Valley, the hub of technology and innovation of which Google is a part. According to a report from NBC, among the top 75 tech companies in Silicon Valley, “only 3% of the employees are Black, and only 4.8% of Latinos are in executive positions for "big tech.” This disparity is even worse for Black women in particular, as ten large companies have no Black women employed.
Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism going around. These certificates will probably be accepted by major companies that participate in the program. These companies include Walmart, Intel, Sprint, Bank of America, PNC, Best Buy, H&R Block, Hulu, and Infosys. But will companies outside this circle consider these graduates with the same value as a four-year degree? Or will the graduates feel like they need to go back to college after completing the course?
But I’d like to stay optimistic about this plan. At best it will allow POC students to get incredible, skill-based degrees at a much better price and allow them to break into historically exclusionary industries. But at the very least it may force major universities to rethink some of their policies and consider making education more accessible.