What if companies started colleges?

Flickr/Queen's College

What if companies started colleges? This week we look into corporate America’s education offerings and debate the possibility of going to Google University.

Talent Wars

It’s almost too easy to find stories of companies hiring AI/ML talent away from universities. Every major tech company on the planet is guilty. The peak stealing story was when Uber recruited one third, or 50 academics from the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute to work for their self driving unit. Even more awkward, was apparently the new Uber lab was so close to the CMU facility, that the buildings shared a parking lot…which is funny in its own way because self driving cars will eliminate the need for parking lot…

Despite the poaching, universities are expanding their push into AI. Just this week, MIT announced a $1bn initiative to start a new college dedicated to solely to studying AI. The new MIT program covers everything from technical research, to ethics, to the global effects of AI. As colleges invest more in this space, how do companies compete? That got me thinking…

Why don’t companies just start colleges?

The idea would be simple: company XYZ would offer a fully funded four year degree, with the stipulation that the student would have to work for that company for a minimum of four years. Or, for the top graduates of the class, the company would give a certain amount of funding to the student upon completion of the degree to start their own venture, with the company getting a 50% stake.

Let’s say Google started a college, and named it Google University, or Goo U for short. Goo U would be fundamentally different than college. Instead of GPA, tests and all of that jazz, everything would be project focused. Projects could range from building a startup to building new products to helping teams improve their existing products. For example, you could take a marketing class, but instead of homework, you must become the campaign manager/CMO of a project that one of your classmates is building.

Actually, Google is already doing this

In 2015, Google launched what they are calling the “AI Residency”, a yearlong program which allows residents to research real world machine learning projects. In their description of the “AI Residency”, Google says “The residency program is similar to spending a year in a Master’s or PhD program in machine learning.” Sounds like a college to me.

If companies aren’t fully starting colleges, they are now influencing how they teach courses. Wired ran an interesting piece in 2017 describing how Eastern Washington University (EMU) introduced a new data science program. EMU was able to launch the new program in record time because it relied on already created materials from Microsoft. While the focus of the article was more about how do we retrain people for changing industries, it should be more noted that companies may be looking to have a more increased role in determining what gets taught in colleges.

Companies are also developing learning resources

This mirrors closely with another trend of tech companies creating content for online courses. Microsoft and Linux both have their own pages on eDX, a massive open online course (MOOC) site. Google also offers free online courses about machine learning, targeted towards developers. Finally, just the other day I got an email from Coursera talking about how I should enroll in a course put together by IBM on data science.

But will people want to go to Goo U?

I admit, there are a lot of problems with this. Goo U is probably not going to offer liberal arts courses, so they would probably have to partner with another university to take them. The Goo U college experience would probably be not that great. if there are only 100 – 200 kids in the school, I can’t imagine the parties being that great (although, if you went to a tech school, like I did, you already know the parties aren’t good). And there certainly wouldn’t be a division 1 football team…

But if you don’t want to spend the $200k to get a degree and like the idea of a guaranteed job after school, Goo U may not be so bad.

They just need a good mascot…

Bonus Idea

Another idea would be creating a Masters program for entirely new industries. Take blockchain for example. The idea would be Google starts a blockchain school and anyone in the company can apply to get a “Masters” in it. People maintain their original salary, but when they graduate the college, they have to try and apply what they learned in the new college, to help Google’s bottom line.

If Google takes this idea, the only thing I ask is to name the new school, the “Andrew Van Aken College of Blockchain.” A small ask, I know.

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