Stanford helps community colleges bring Google’s Data Analytics Certificate to students

The collaboration between Bay Area Community College Consortium, Google, and Stanford Digital Education reflects the belief that training in data analytics can boost job prospects.

Stanford Digital Education | Jenny Robinson

Sanjay Dorairaj teaches computer programming at San José City College, where he leads the data science program. He estimates that 40 percent of his students work in the service economy, with jobs like waiting tables or driving for Uber, and are seeking to transition to more stable and better compensated positions in the technology sector.

Along with eight other faculty members from Bay Area community colleges, and another from San José State University, Dorairaj is part of a pilot program facilitated by Stanford Digital Education and the Bay Area Community College Consortium (BACCC) that seeks to widen access to data science education by integrating the Google Data Analytics Certificate into community college curricula.

“We have brilliant, hardworking students,” said Dorairaj. “They understand the value of being able to get a good job. They are consistent, passionate, and willing to go the extra mile. They just need the opportunity.”

Dorairaj and his colleagues hope that Google’s Data Analytics Certificate can help. In the high-stakes competition for entry-level jobs and internships in Silicon Valley, the certificate is a recognizable measure of accomplishment that has currency across employers. First, though, community college instructors must incorporate the Google-developed content into existing courses, create new courses around it, or launch extracurricular programs that build on it — with support from Stanford Digital Education.

Matthew Rascoff, vice provost for digital education at Stanford, explained: “As vehicles for social mobility, industry credentials like those from Grow with Google are most compelling as a complement, rather than a replacement, for traditional degrees. But colleges need help in ‘hybridizing’ these alternative credentials with their existing academic programs. Nowhere are the stakes higher than in the California community college system, which serves 1.8 million students from an incredible diversity of backgrounds. The challenge is to support community college faculty in marrying general frameworks and applied skills, and academic and industry content, to help their students thrive.”

Google offers certificates in six fields, including cybersecurity, data analytics, digital marketing and e-commerce, IT support, project management, and user experience (UX) design. Over 500,000 people worldwide have completed a Google Career Certificate.

Stanford Digital Education’s choice — to launch its pilot with the Data Analytics Certificate — was informed by workforce demand.

According to a 2020 McKinsey report, when companies were asked to identify their greatest workforce skills gap across a range of business areas, they most often cited data analytics. How companies are hiring reflects that need: a search for “data analyst jobs in the United States” yielded more than 183,000 results on LinkedIn in late August. That same day, ZipRecruiter listed almost 25,000 junior data analyst positions.

“In 2022, ‘how to become a data analyst’ was the top trending ‘how to become’ question on Google Search globally,” said Lisa Gevelber, a chief marketing officer at Google who founded the Grow with Google program in 2017. Contemporary tools produce data at a dizzying rate — whether by measuring features of our physical world, through digital record-keeping, or by following people’s online movements and internet queries. Data science is what makes that data interpretable, meaningful, and actionable.

To extract useful information from dense clouds of data, analysts must “normalize the data and smooth it out, removing irregularities and outliers,” said Jeffrey Bergamini, a computer science professor at Cabrillo College, near Santa Cruz, who is participating in the Stanford Digital Education pilot and is building a new course, slated for the spring, around the Google Data Analytics Certificate material. Students in Bergamini’s certificate-based course will learn to prepare and process data, to import the cleaned data into various tools, to query and analyze it, to create visualizations so that it can be better understood and shared, and to make recommendations based on what the data show.

At present, many students earn the Data Analytics Certificate through independent online coursework. Designed for beginners, the certificate requires no previous experience to enroll. Content is organized into eight units, beginning with “Foundations: Data, Data Everywhere,” and ending with an introduction to R programming and a capstone project. At 186 hours of recorded content, it requires sustained attention and effort, generally taking three to six months to complete.

The online model works well for many students, but some students may benefit from in-person guidance. Google has been partnering with companies and colleges to explore how best to meet that need.

“We’re especially excited to partner with Stanford and the Bay Area Community College Consortium (BACCC) to offer this certificate,” said Gevelber.

For schools in the consortium, one possible pathway is that community college students can undertake Google’s Data Analytics Certificate program while enrolled in a computer science course and can thus have a hybrid experience. They will work through the certificate’s layered, expert-informed online lessons while benefiting from the live in-person instruction, guidance, and feedback of their teachers; interaction with their peers; and the support of the community college structure, which can provide assistance with food, housing, and mental health services, as well as career development. (San José City College, where Dorairaj teaches, has a “Basic Needs” tab at the top level of its website’s navigation bar.)

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