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NanoDegrees - A New Paradigm in Tech Credentials

Udacity NanoDegrees logo

RF Cafe University"Factoids," "Kirt's Cogitations," and "Tech Topics Smorgasbord" are all manifestations of my rantings on various subjects relevant (usually) to the overall RF Cafe theme. All may be accessed on these pages:

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Industry buzzwords are appearing these days faster than IRS scandals. 'NanoDegree,' coined by Udacity, is one of them. A NanoDegree provides, "Credentials built by industry leaders to advance your career." It is essentially another form of online certification in specific fields of study, in Udacity's case, Internet and Information Technology (IT). The ultimate mission is to reduce the requirement and expectation of a formal college degree - be it Associate, Bachelor, or even higher - for routine jobs. An intense introduction to or concentration on increasing specific skills, combined with on-the-job experience and instruction, is really all many high technology jobs require. In order to be a success, employers will need to be convinced of the value provided by abbreviated educational regimens that do not include the 'rounding out' courses such as writing, math, science, and social studies, that are outside the mainline needs of a specific skill set.

"Udacity was born out of a Stanford University experiment in which Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig offered their "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" course online to anyone, for free. Over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled and not much later, Udacity was born. Now we're a growing team of educators and engineers on a mission to change the future of education by bridging the gap between real-world skills, relevant education, and employment."

Earning and unemployment rates by educational attainment (BLS 2013) - RF CafeThe Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is credited with pioneering free online college courses (OpenCourseWare, aka OCW) for auditing beginning in 2002; there are 2,150 courses available as of this writing. Unlike with Udacity, OCW does not issue a piece of paper to participants*. Many colleges and universities have followed in MIT's footsteps over the last decade.

There is currently a big push from both sides of the tug-of-war as to whether everyone should get a college degree. One camp (which includes the U.S. government) believes that merely having a high school diploma and/or a vocational school certificate of completion is not enough to give you a lifetime earning advantage. That school of thought (pun intended) is partially responsible for people discovering that being able to include a Bachelor's degree in Women's Studies (or some other worthless title) on their resumes is needed to edge out a less educated competitor for a burger flipping job. The problem is, of course, that losing four years of potential income production while paying out tens of thousands of dollars to get the sheepskin puts them way behind the profit curve from the beginning. The other camp reasonably, IMHO, argues that most meaningful and desirable jobs do not require a lot of formal education. Trade schools for plumbing, HVAC, electrical, welding, machining, etc., have for over a century produced an ample qualified workforce of people who earn good livings and love their jobs while combining off-hours instruction and paying employment during the day. Many successful business are started by people without college degrees.

Regardless of the name assigned to the non-degreed program, the success is largely dependent on participants proving their mettle and employers being willing to assume some risk in hiring these people. With as desperately as America needs to reestablish its skilled worker base in both production and service realms, I hope the momentum being gained continues and prevails. Universities have a lot to lose from taxpayer-funded grants and scholarships if people wake up and see the disservice being performed by broadly publishing and promoting the information being shown in charts like the one above from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Military technical schools for electronics always have been one of the best deals available for receiving a high quality and highly valued education and hands-on experience that employers seek when hiring non-degreed employes.


* From the OCW website: "Please note: you cannot receive credit, a degree, or a certificate upon completion of OCW materials. OCW does not have registration or enrollment options, and we do not provide interaction or direct contact with MIT faculty, staff, or students."



Posted June 25, 2014

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