Google is exerting a growing presence in the country’s classrooms. On Thursday, the company announced plans to offer its homegrown Information Technology support course to community colleges in eight new states via a $3.5 million education grant.
The program will now be offered through community colleges in Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Virginia and West Virginia. Those states come in addition to schools in Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, and Wisconsin, which have offered the course since earlier this year.
The Google course, which began as a series of online modules offered on Coursera, seeks to alleviate an IT support labor shortage by training workers—many of them from non-traditional IT backgrounds—for the positions.
Natalie Van Kleef, who leads the IT Certificate program for Google, told Fortune the company has been emphasizing to employers that “college degrees don’t have to be table stakes” for careers in IT support.
For Google, the educational gambit offers a chance to build good will at a time when it is the subject of multiple regulatory investigations, and is seen by critics as abusing its dominance in online advertising. The IT training program is part of a much larger $1 billion Google initiative that involves grants to non-profits to support the American workforce.
Google and Coursera, which on Thursday published a report on the first year of the IT initiative, claim it has been particularly successful in attracting diverse applicants, saying 60% of applicants identified as female, Latino, Black or a veteran.
The companies also claim that the completion rate for the online version of the course has been 2.5 times higher than other content on Coursera. Nonetheless, that completion rate is still strikingly low—consisting of 21% over 12 months. Van Kleef attributes that figure in part to the fact that some of those who enrolled were already IT specialists, and may have been only looking to pick up particular skills, rather than obtain the certificate.
The low completion rate comes as academics are questioning the overall viability of online learning for low-income and at-risk students. According to a recent study from the Brookings Institute, online learning for these groups coincides with high drop-out rates and low grades compared to in-class lessons.
Nonetheless, Google and Coursera can point to more than 50,000 people enrolling in the IT Course—which consists of six modules costing $49 each— and many of them finding jobs as a result.
Upon launching the course, Google had granted scholarships covering the cost for 10,000 enrollees. The company is not renewing the subsidy, but will instead direct funds at expanding in-class versions of the course, and providing an online hub that connects graduates with employers.
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