This New Program Could Be the Future of Education

John Grgurich, The Fiscal Times

AT&T last week announced a new online degree program that will offer aspiring tech workers the ability to earn something called a nanodegree — a highly specific, tech-oriented degree that can be earned in a year or less, will cost just $200 per month, and will be fully recognized by AT&T for the purpose of landing an entry-level software job with the company.

The term Nanodegree was coined by Udacity, the online education company that AT&T will partner with to offer the program. Udacity’s CEO and co-founder is Sebastian Thrun, a research professor at Stanford University and the former Google engineer behind the search giant’s autonomous car and Google Glass smartglasses.

The Udacity website explains that Thrun is interested in “democratizing higher education,” but it’s unclear yet whether nanodegrees might merely be worker training programs that workers now have to pay for or whether they might be the next step in the evolution of education —training that addresses niche needs with a more certain payoff at the end. AT&T says it will offer paid internships to up to 100 nanodegree graduates, so that payoff, while real, seems limited, as least as of now.

Certainly, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have been around for a while. But the nanodegree idea is a much more targeted one, and even AT&T has admitted outright that “this model benefits AT&T.”

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