Starbuck’s is providing its employees with the opportunity to earn a degree (at considerable expense to the company) by taking online courses from Arizona State University. AT&T is offering employees the opportunity to earn a “NanoDegree” that will qualify them for entry-level positions in the company. And Udacity has been designing MOOCs for Google and Cloudera to address technical learning needs of their employees and customers.

Is this the future? Will all companies tailor a credential to their own needs, bypassing the traditional College-classroom2-year and 4-year academic path found in colleges and universities around the world? Will the demand for highly skilled workers, the pace of change in technology, and the high cost of four-year institutions cause people to seek a narrow, job-focused, technical education? Will the study of history, social sciences, literature, languages, and the arts be sacrificed for the immediate benefits of learning just enough to get a job.   

For most people, college is the last time (maybe only time) beliefs and values go through significant change. It’s worrisome that at the same time Emotional Intelligence, collaboration, and cross-cultural teamwork are being recognized as essential competencies of a successful workforce, we are drastically reducing the exposure of workers to the breadth of ideas, values, and culture in our global society.

I applaud Starbucks, AT&T, Google, and Cloudera for providing courses and credentials to their employees. This is good for the employees that take advantage of these programs and good for the economy which needs skilled and knowledgeable workers. However, I worry that we are preparing people for a job, not for being successful in an organization.