“It is like a university, built by industry.” So said the maverick entrepreneur, engineer, and would-be education disruptor Sebastien Thrun, describing his company Udacity’s partnership with AT&T this past June. The plan is to teach basic programming so that young people don’t have to bother with college before grabbing an entry-level job. “It’s a more focused education with less time wasted,” Thrun told The New York Times. “They can get a degree quickly, get a job and then maybe do it again.”
Thrun, once a Stanford professor and Google scientist, remains optimistic despite the dismal results of his company’s first university partnership. Last January, he promised to revolutionize education by offering three online math courses through San Jose State; six months later, after more than half of online students failed their final exams, the university suspended the program. “We don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product," he told Fast Company at the end of the year. Udacity decided to pivot from partnerships with universities to collaborations with industry.
Enter the “nano-degree.” If you can’t “disrupt” education through innovation, the thinking goes, just downsize it so much that it becomes training for just one task that a particular company wants at one particular moment. The same philosophy is the driving force behind Treehouse, a company that offers online courses in business and web development. Under the banner of diversifying tech companies, the CEO, Ryan Carson, urges tech-minded girls to skip college and just learn how to code. Wedding corporate training to identity politics, Carson claims that the current language of business is all young women need to know in order to earn a more equal footing in the technology world. It’s like a university—but not really.