Stanford helps community colleges bring Google’s Data Analytics Certificate to students
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.”
Broad-based need for data analytics inspires certificate choice
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.)
“It is critical to have teachers on the ground at community colleges figure out what will work at their institutions,” said Michael Acedo, Stanford Digital Education’s assistant director of project innovation and technology, who oversees the pilot program.
To provide the instructors with new expertise and additional resources, Stanford Digital Education hosted in June a week of online professional development for faculty in the pilot program, partnering with Women in Data Science, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Education in Data Science MS program at Stanford Graduate School of Education, and the Carpentries (an organization devoted to teaching data and coding skills). The week included workshops on live coding instruction and inclusive teaching practices, along with a curriculum map to help faculty navigate the Grow with Google certificate units. One overarching goal was to establish a professional learning community.
Community college instructors choose how to weave the certificate into curriculum
For now, instructors’ efforts to incorporate the certificate vary from individual to individual. Teachers will choose different strategies depending on how the Google content connects to existing courses at their schools. Some will offer it this fall through a club or as independent study. Those choosing to create new courses will navigate a community college course approval process dictated by the state and delegated to district governing boards, a system meant to ensure the integrity and value of courses offered for credit — but not one designed for speed.
The Stanford Digital Education team will check in with participating faculty in the coming months, with the goal of building a playbook of best practices for certificate implementation, so that it can more easily be scaled to additional community colleges.
The certificate program does not entail additional costs for students who are taking it as part of the pilot program, and the focused work holds out the promise of concrete benefits.
“Overall, 75 percent of graduates of the Google Career Certificate program in the U.S. report a positive career impact, such as a new job, higher pay, or a promotion, within six months of completion,” said Gevelber.
At the June training, Rascoff invited the pilot program faculty to describe what they needed and how Stanford could help. Dorairaj volunteered that assistance with placing students in internships would be tremendously helpful, as other community college instructors nodded in agreement. Students needed direct work experience to be able to compete on the job market, their teachers felt. Even as they were doing their best to help train students for in-demand positions, faculty wanted local companies to meet them part way, by developing greater openness to hiring community college students.
That’s the kind of flexibility among employers that Google is developing, as well. They’ve built a consortium of over 150 national employers, and thousands of others, that hire talented people who have completed a Google career certificate, including leading Bay-area based companies.
In the meantime, Dorairaj is exploring how he can incorporate Google’s Data Analytics Certificate content into the San José City College Business and Data Analytics certificate program. (San Jose City College already offers the Google Support IT Certificate). Dorairaj is taking four classes to hone his expertise, in addition to the five he is teaching this fall. “The technology changes so fast it’s hard to keep up,” he said. “Take Tableau: they replace concepts — things that typically don't change over decades — every few months, so it's hard for a college professor to stay on track.”
He welcomes the chance to work with Stanford, Google, and colleagues at other community colleges. “Working with a partner who can make sure that the content is up to date is ideal,” he said. “It’s going to be important to have new content generated by someone who's an expert, and who can get us up to speed.”