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The Rise of Google Career Certificates: Threat or Opportunity?

Episode 94

March 8, 2022 30 minutes


EAB’s Sally Amoruso is joined by Lisa Gevelber who leads Grow with Google, a $1-billion enterprise that has helped more than 70,000 students strengthen their earning potential by completing Google Career Certificates. Lisa was a featured speaker at EAB’s recent Presidential Experience Lab, an event that attracted more than 100 college and university presidents who gathered to discuss the rise of alternative credentials.

Sally and Lisa examine opportunities available to higher education leaders who are interested in bundling skills training courses with current degree programs to better meet student and employer demand.



0:00:10.7 Speaker 1: Hello, and welcome to office hours with EAB. Today, we explore the rise of alternative credentials through a conversation with one of the leading figures in the movement “Grow with Google” founder Lisa Gevelber. Lisa joins EAB Sally Amoruso to discuss opportunities available to colleges who are looking for creative ways to augment their traditional degree programs by adding short-form skills training courses and certificate programs. This is a conversation you won’t wanna miss, so give our guests a listen and enjoy.


0:00:48.7 Sally Amoruso: Welcome to Office Hours. This is Sally Amoruso, chief partner officer for EAB, and I’m very excited for our conversation today. As we all know, colleges are examining every avenue for revenue growth and diversification, in fact, a recent survey of adult and graduate education leaders showed over 70% believe alternative credentials will help them meet revenue goals. I am joined today by Lisa Gevelber, who is the founder and vice president of Grow with Google, a one-billion-dollar enterprise whose mission it is to help more Americans get the training, tools, and expertise they need to land the jobs they want, advance their careers, and grow their businesses. Hello, Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

0:01:31.2 Lisa Gevelber: Hey, Sally, thank you so much for having me.

0:01:33.8 SA: No, not at all, it’s a pleasure. I would like to start by having you share what your role is at Grow With Google, and why you helped to launch that enterprise in the first place.

0:01:46.4 LG: Yet, we haven’t… Grow with Google has existed since 2017, so we’re actually in our fifth year of this initiative. And Google launched Grow with Google because at the end of the day we really care that the opportunities created by technology were truly available to everyone, and specifically Grow with Google is focused on economic opportunity. How do we help businesses and individuals live up to their economic potential and grow?

0:02:18.4 SA: Yes. So, this is about driving economic mobility, and we talked about that a bit when we were hosting or co-hosting our latest presidential Experience Lab event. In fact, we had over 100 university presidents that were gathered to examine the current state of alternative credentials and to learn about Grow with Google specifically, as well as explore optimal approaches for developing strategies to see some of the opportunities. I’d love to hear some of your key takeaways, but also to get to the trends that we explored across that event. So, let me start with your takeaways. Lisa, did anything surprise you about what you heard from those 120 university presidents at the event and how they were thinking about embracing or being resistant to certificate programs?

0:03:17.6 LG: It was such a great event, Sally, we learned so much from being around over 100 university presidents who obviously have so much experience and thinking about everything from traditional university students all the way up to adult learners. And we’re relatively new, we’ve been doing this for just four to five years, and so we have a lot to learn, and I think… I guess one of the things that’s really encouraged me in those conversations that we had with them was hearing how open they are to additional… Bringing additional models into their own programs, and we from day one, back in 2018, January 2018, when we launched our very first Google Career Certificate program, had at least one university partnership, we partnered with Northeastern, and Northeastern is obviously super progressive in their thinking about work-based learning.

0:04:26.9 SA: And the adult learner.

0:04:28.1 LG: Exactly. And so since 2018, we’ve had that initial partnership, and then as we progressed over the next year, we started partnering with community colleges primarily, and now I think we have almost 200 community colleges who are partners with us, including the other day there’s a particular community college that has over 500 graduates of our Google career certificates already.

0:04:56.6 SA: Wow, amazing.

0:04:56.7 LG: Five hundred from one school. [laughter] Yeah, it’s so exciting. And from the get-go, our belief was that we wanted to provide options for people, we wanted to make sure that our Google career certificates could be stackable into a degree. Northeastern from the get-go provided 12 credits for the IT support certificate, and since then, the American Council on Education, ACE, has recommended all of the Google career certificates for college credit anywhere between nine and 12 credits depending on the certificate. And so now there are lots of four-year institutions, not just community colleges, who are giving credit and also creatively integrating the career certificate in a lots of ways, and I’m happy to share some of the different ways that the universities are discovering or thinking about using short-term credentials like ACE.

0:05:52.5 SA: I definitely wanna get into that, but what you’re talking about is really a shift from either or to both and that openness really goes to how we can collaborate and incorporate the power of the career certificates to propel our students forward and we’re all united in that objective, so I agree with you, I think that was really wonderful to see.

0:06:16.7 SA: I do wanna dive into the trends a little bit that we explored during the Experience Lab, and also to ask you to talk a little more about the intersection of the traditional undergrad and complementary short form certificates and the kinds of partnerships you’re forming. But when we look at that market, the credential market is global, it’s growing quickly, and the typical consumer, if you will, is older. So 77% of Coursera learners are outside of North America; 30% are based in Asia. The typical alternative credential student is 10 years older than the traditional master’s student, and the total current value of the alternative credential market is around 10 billion today but expected to double by 2025. Now, equity gaps are a major hurdle, as they are in every other part of our educational system. So black students make up 8-10% of enrollees, but only 3-6% of completers, and that’s a rate that’s far lower than traditional master’s completions.

0:07:24.9 SA: Those with higher incomes are more likely to enroll and more likely to complete in micro-masters, and without financial aid, which is often not available, many learners can’t even afford to participate. And there’s very little independent oversight, so the tracking, as you and I have talked about, is almost impossible, the data is so dirty and so hard to uncover that it’s really hard to track those success metrics that we’re both so interested in. But how do these trends impact the way that you are developing and pricing and working with universities to market these certificate programs?

0:08:05.1 LG: Oh, there’s so much in that question. [laughter] Let’s see. Where to start. So I have to say we have been really encouraged about the ability we’ve had to graduate people from all kinds of backgrounds. I think… I wasn’t aware of those statistics that you just cited, but our statistics look pretty different. Over 55% of our graduates are black, Latino, or Asian.

0:08:43.9 SA: Yes.

0:08:45.3 LG: For our IT support certificate, 46% of our learners… I mean, of our graduates, sorry. 46% of the people who graduated, finished our certificate, completed, came from the lowest income tertile in the country.

0:09:00.4 SA: Yes.

0:09:00.8 LG: And they’re graduating into these careers that have entry-level salaries of over $60,000 a year. So that, about just under half of our graduates are coming from less than $30,000 a year, and in three to six months of part-time study getting into careers that have entry-level salaries on average of over $60,000 a year, and that is an incredible ROI.

0:09:28.3 SA: It’s an incredible outcome. But I think it goes to… And that difference in the statistics goes to the fact that you have really intentionally priced and structured the career certificates to be radically flexible and to be very, very low cost. Can you speak to that a little bit?

0:09:50.3 LG: Yeah, absolutely. But first I need to say, this is not a business for Google.

0:09:55.9 SA: That’s right.

0:09:56.7 LG: This is part of our social impact efforts, and so actually the fee that’s charged for the certificates is a Coursera fee. So, Coursera does charge $39 per month for an individual; there’s different pricing for institutions. So if a university or a community college… Well, for community colleges it’s now free. I should say that. Even Coursera, we worked with them so that community colleges could absolutely offer it to students without any sort of tuition or fee. But for universities, there’s also special pricing and we’re more happy to partner with any university that wants to talk with us about that. But for a normal student who just comes on their own, Coursera does charge $39 a month. Most people finish in three to six months, so they might pay $120 to $240, let’s say, to complete the certificate. And so that, I think it’s an affordable certificate, and even for folks who cannot afford those prices we have over 100,000 scholarships funded by Google to help folks if they need the help, the tuition should never be a barrier, that’s the principle. But I think more than even the cost in terms of making it available to all, is the fact that it’s online, available on demand, and you can do it at your own pace.

0:11:31.1 LG: And I think for especially adult workers in America, that’s really important. More than 20% of workers in our country don’t control and don’t know their schedule for the next week. They certainly can’t commit to sit in a classroom whatever, Mondays and Wednesdays, from 1:00 to 3:00, if they don’t even know their work schedule. So I think the good thing about the certificates is they’re online, on-demand, so they’re meant to work even for working adults who have challenging schedules. And I think that flexibility is one of the things that really people appreciate.

0:12:08.7 SA: I agree. In fact, we had the pleasure of having one of your career certificate grads speak to that and how that asynchronous nature and that on-demand aspect was really important to her being able to get through it, given all of the other things happening in her life. And yet, when you think about that low cost and that amazing flexibility, it’s also paired with a rigor and an employability that’s really powerful, can you speak to that as well?

0:12:38.2 LG: Yeah. From the get-go, one of our design principles was if we’re gonna try to create a more equitable and inclusive job market, Google can’t do that alone, we need the whole ecosystem to join us in that important journey. And so even when we launched the very first career certificate in 2018, we did it with an employer consortium, so all of the content in the Google career certificates is built by Google experts in those career fields who do those jobs and have done them for decades. But when we’ve built out the curriculum, we then vet it with employers, and that’s a really important part of the process, and those employers help us make it better, they weigh in on what they care about, then we make sure that we’re teaching the skills that employers want to hire for, and I think at our summit with you, Martin from Deloitte spoke a little bit about how he had even given Google some of the assessments that they use when they screen data analyst candidates for their jobs, and we built that assessment for SQL and R right into the certificate, and so now the Google Data Analytics certificate is a preferred hiring credential at Deloitte, right?

0:14:01.9 LG: So Martin and his team and all the folks at Deloitte know that we’re teaching the things they care about and the assessment that they use and to judge candidates, and so I think that’s also been a really important part of the success because nobody gets trained to get trained, people get trained to get a better job and a better life, and the way that that happens is if we all work together as an ecosystem and we teach what employers want to hire for. So, there’s, there are I think 1.3 million open jobs in the four career fields that Google teaches with our certificates, that’s a lot of companies who need a lot of help and a lot of great jobs, just waiting for people who have the skills, so we’re trying to close that, the mismatch in the job market between the jobs that are open and the skills that people have.

0:14:50.7 SA: So can you speak to the career certificates that you are now offering, and any plans to expand that?

0:14:56.7 LG: Sure, yeah, we have four Google career certificates right now. Our original one, which is IT support, and then we have data analytics, user experience design and project management, so we have those four. We also have some advanced certificates, we have an Automation and in Python certificate, which is like IT support 201, which places like Miami-Dade College have been teaching, and we have some other more advanced ones on the Android development side, for example. But there are lots more professions out there that meet our criteria. The philosophy that we use is what are career fields that are in demand and are projected to grow quite strongly? These are jobs that are gonna be around for a while that pay well, that we know you don’t need a college degree necessarily for, the skills that you need, we can complement your degree, we can teach you those skills, and then, of course, Google has real expertise and we have something to offer. And there’s… There are quite a few more occupations that fit that bill, so we look forward to continuing this journey.

0:16:06.5 SA: And on the employer consortium, you mentioned Deloitte and others who have been a real input in the design of the curriculum and in ensuring the rigor, tell me a little bit about that consortium and also the jobs platform that they have access to.

0:16:24.1 LG: Yeah. So, as I said, nobody gets trained to get trained, we’re making sure people can get jobs. So, a few things, one is these certificates are very rigorous, it’s not just you watch a bunch of videos, there are a bunch of hands-on activities and there’s a lot of assessments. Every certificate has at least 100 assessments built in, and you have to get at least an 80% or higher on all the required assessments in order to pass, so you really have to know your stuff to earn the certificate. And then we do some things to help you also get a job, so we provide industry specific resume templates, so now that you’ve learned all this stuff about data analytics, how do you talk about what you’ve learned on a resume? How do you show the skills that you’ve learned in a resume? We also offer every person who completes a certificate one year of free big interview training, so it’s a platform that allows you to practice interviewing. And then we have a job board with thousands of jobs on it that are specific jobs that our employer consortium has open right now for which they are hiring Google career certificate graduates specifically. So I think all of those things really help ensure that people can connect to real jobs.

0:17:44.2 SA: Amazing. And it’s not just tech firms that are part of this, right? You mentioned Deloitte, but there’s a whole variety, it’s quite a diverse set of employers who are taking part in this.

0:17:55.8 LG: Yeah, it’s amazing. We have outstanding partners, we have everyone from, gosh, I don’t know, Bank of America and Barr to Walmart and Target, and then tech firms, as you said, we have SAP and Intel, Hulu, Verizon, gosh, the list is, the list is long. And of course, Google, we were the original member of the Google hiring consortium, and so we’re super excited to hire a bunch of these grads, too.

0:18:27.4 SA: So, let’s turn to your partnerships with universities. I’m sure there are some specific ways that you’ve seen those partnerships work best, can you describe those models?

0:18:37.3 LG: Yeah. I love the creativity in the higher ed system, ’cause there’s all kinds of things we never thought of that people started doing. So the first thing, as I mentioned, in 2018 we launched that Northeastern University did was offer credit. So one opportunity for higher ed is to offer credit for folks who have completed the certificate, they can either do that as part of the curriculum of their school, and we’re seeing some creative applications there I can talk about, or offer credit for prior learning as folks enter their programs.

0:19:15.4 LG: One of the fun things that people are doing in terms of offering credit that folks like Purdue University Global are doing, I think Frank Dooley was at your president summit as well, is bundling the Google Career Certificate Program with other offerings they have that are unique to their school. And I really love this approach. So Purdue, for example, will take the IT support certificate, and there’s a few different tracks that you can create with Purdue classes, and when you bundle it all together, you can get up to 40 credits by taking the bundle. And I think that’s super creative. Another thing people are doing is building on top with their own expertise. So Johns Hopkins was the first university to do this. We had our IT support certificate, and they obviously have tons of expertise in healthcare. So they built a healthcare IT certificate.

0:20:13.4 LG: So they don’t teach the basics, they let Google teach the basics with the Google IT support certificate, but they help you apply what you know once you’ve completed ACE to the healthcare industry. So they’re offering the healthcare certificate, which builds on top of ACE. And we haven’t yet announced this, but we have a whole bunch of other top-notch universities who are doing this build-on-top model where we teach the basics of well let’s say data analytics, and then they teach an industry application of that on top.

0:20:44.8 SA: Sure, that makes sense. That’s really exciting to hear.

0:20:48.3 LG: It’s really fun what people are doing, and everyone has their area that their school is passionate about or expert in. And so we’ll have a bunch of those to announce and not too long from now and certainly, we invite lots of other schools to talk to us about doing that, we’d love, love love to partner with more schools. But there’s even more creative things people are doing. The University of Virginia has decided that they think that Google Career Certificate graduates are perfect candidates for their online bachelor’s program, and so they offer a $5000 scholarship to anyone who has completed a Google Career Certificate if they want to come and do their online bachelor’s at UVA. So I think that is also quite clever and not something that we had thought of, it was really their idea. Let’s see, what else are people doing?

0:21:44.6 LG: A lot of schools are thinking about, “How do they offer this either to their alumni?” Which I think is interesting, or through their Continuing Studies programs. We have some very, very big universities which are thinking about… Who have hundreds of thousands of alumni. And I think their perspective is, “If we know these certificates help make people more employable at higher wages, why wouldn’t we wanna offer that not just to our students but also to our alumni?” Because these schools really care about what happens to their students. They want them to succeed in life, they’ve invested so much in them. So it’s kind of a win for the university helping their students or their alumni to make better careers and better lives, and it obviously helps the employers, and it certainly makes the parents happy.

0:22:45.9 SA: [laughter] That makes a lot of sense as the parent of college age kids, so I do understand that. You’ve had a really exciting recent announcement about a $100 million fund, do you wanna share some of the details of that fund and partnership with Social Finance?

0:23:05.4 LG: Yeah. This is actually the single biggest philanthropic initiative Google has ever done, and we’re so excited to partner with Social Finance specifically. So what’s really unique about the Social Finance fund is that it is both a success-based model, and it’s a pay-it-forward model. And the way it works is that Google has taken a combination of loans from our balance sheet as well as philanthropic grants. And we’re taking loans and philanthropic grants up to a $100 million and providing that to Social Finance, who in turn is working directly with proven workforce development non-profits who are using those funds to provide wrap-around supports for underserved learners. This is really important, the funding is really to provide important supports for those folks, everything from potentially living stipends or childcare, to job placement support, that’s what it funds, it funds the wraparounds. So really it is built for underserved learners. And then when those learners finish the program and get a job paying at least $40,000 a year, they pay back over time in a zero-interest way the wrap-around support funding that they received. And actually, that gets used to fund the next learner, so it really is pay-it-forward.

0:24:38.7 LG: And they only pay it back if they’re… When they have a job paying more than $40,000 a year. So it’s really pay-for-success and pay-it-forward. It’s a success-based program where you pay it forward for the next person. This is a much more sustainable model than traditional philanthropy. And so it provides the opportunity for so much more scale. And we’re really excited about partnering with Social Finance, who we think have this super innovative model. We hope lots of people follow us. I think no one thinks the current student-loan model is working for anyone. And we have to find creative ways to help support, especially underserved learners, to get the skills and knowledge they need to advance in their careers and their lives. And I think this innovative model hopefully will help. Our aim is to use this a $100 million supporting these underserved learners to deliver a billion dollars in wage gains. I think that’s the important part, is that our ambition is more wage gains for more people in a sustainable model. And we think it’s super exciting, I think it could even be game changing. So we’re hoping lots of other folks will join us in this journey.

0:26:09.0 SA: I love the element of self-replenishing. So each set of graduates is able to contribute to the replenishment of the fund through to, as you say, pay it forward. Thank you for sharing that. And in closing, I would love for you to speak to our listenership, the higher ed community, in terms of two or three things that you wanna make sure higher ed leaders know or take away about Grow with Google.

0:26:38.2 LG: Yeah, I guess the first most important thing is we are so excited to work with the higher ed systems in our country. This transition from high school to higher ed to the workforce is one that’s exciting and important, and part of that journey, and I have a college student right now who is preparing for the workforce, and I think everyone has always believed that that is a part of what higher ed can contribute, but having industry recognized improving credentials just builds on what these higher ed institutions I think can offer. And it’s been really fun seeing whole parts of the ecosystem come together, that the state of Connecticut, for example, has every single one of their community colleges offering the Google career certificates, and very soon we’re gonna announce several other states where every single community college in the state will be offering the Google career certificates. And big university systems, the University of Texas system is offering the Google career certificates to every single one of its 225,000 students, which is just amazing. It’s just another opportunity for people as they go through their higher ed experience to get industry proven credentials and hopefully stand out from other candidates as well.

0:28:11.5 LG: So, Burning Glass data shows without question that combining a bachelor’s degree in many, many majors with an industry-recognized high-quality credential like the Google career certificates absolutely makes students more employable at significantly higher wages, and I think seeing all these universities and all these community colleges really embrace that is game-changing for our country. I think it is game-changing for the world of students and adult learners. Together, I think we can really make a giant impact in creating a truly more equitable world.

0:28:54.2 SA: Lisa, thank you, and thank you for the great work that you all are doing at Grow with Google. Thank you for sharing that with the listeners, we really appreciate your time today.

0:29:04.3 SA: Oh my gosh, thanks so much for having me and for all that you’re doing, Sally.


0:29:15.0 Speaker 1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week when our guest take a look at the current state of the hybrid multimodal campus model that is emerging from the pandemic. Our guest will examine how colleges are reconfiguring campus spaces and workforce policies to adapt. Until next week, thank you for your time.