Amazon has launched an “educator enablement” program to help instructors at community colleges, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions learn and teach AI.
A recent report from the Burning Glass Institute, Wiley, and the Business-Higher Education Forum is the latest study to affirm the value of the AI skillset in the job market. Yet, quality AI education is still out of reach for many students who don’t attend selective research universities including many Black and Latino/a students.
Additionally, the colleges that do enroll large proportions of these students–HBCUs and community colleges–receive two to five times less public and private funding compared to the most selective public and private research universities where white and Asian students are concentrated.
While employers are increasingly dropping degree requirements for entry-level roles and exploring skills-based hiring, the reality is that most employers are still reluctant to hire or promote without a formal degree or non-degree credential from a traditional college or university.
Despite the gradual improvement and expansion of alternative pathways into technology jobs including tech apprenticeships, coding bootcamps, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), and industry-awarded credentials, most experts believe that the best way to equitably meet the labor market needs for AI skills is by increasing the availability and quality of affordable AI education at public postsecondary education institutions that serve underserved students.
To that end, Georgetown University’s Center on Security and Emerging Technologies and New America have both independently tracked the development of degree and non-degree credentials in AI at community colleges and called for more investment in AI education at community colleges. Similar calls have been made for more investments in AI education HBCUs.
Responding to this need, Amazon and its Machine Learning University hope this new upskilling program will help professors and faculty at community colleges and HBCUs learn and teach AI.
AI-Related Degrees Completion at Community Colleges Lag Other Programs
Amazon’s Train-The-Trainer Approach to AI Education
Amazon’s new professional development program will help college instructors gain a generalist AI skillset and not necessarily one limited to what’s covered across AWS’s own suite of industry certification offerings–many of which are also being embedded across college and university programs.
Instead, Amazon’s will help college instructors hone their expertise in AI and then help them teach AI through four semester-long courses that can be configured as colleges see fit.
According to Mike Miller, General Manager of AWS AI Devices, Amazon will provide $1,200 and continuing education credits to 330 participants who complete one of the six boot camps being offered over the course of 2023.
“AI careers are going to take many shapes, and where you go to school shouldn’t really affect your career opportunity. We want community colleges, HBCUs, and MSIs to create more opportunities to learn AI,” Miller told me in an interview.
For colleges that don’t get selected for the educator enablement cohort, Amazon plans to make curriculum materials for any interested college at no cost through Github, YouTube, and AWS Academy.
The new program was inspired by a letter from Raymond Brown, a professor at Houston Community College, one of the first community colleges to offer an associate’s degree in AI—and soon to be offering a bachelor’s degree AI which was recently approved by the accrediting body, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Brown used curriculum content from Amazon’s Machine Learning University to build the college’s AI degrees which have sent graduates off to big-time employers including Tesla and McKinsey & Company.
Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Instruction at Houston Community College, told me that Amazon’s offerings are allowing community colleges to overcome a major barrier in teaching AI–building instructor capacity.
“We cannot compete with the pay that the private sector provides workers with AI skills, so support from technology companies is critical to upskill our faculty. Workforce training is a collaborative sport,” Burillo-Hopkins shared in an interview.
Norge Pena Perez, a computer science instructor at Miami Dade College in Florida has contributed to the community college’s own associate’s degrees and non-degree programs in AI and previously participated in Amazon’s learning opportunities for colleges. According to Perez, Amazon differentiated its support of colleges by emphasizing being responsive to instructors’ expressed needs, emphasizing that, “AWS spoke with colleges to gather feedback when creating curriculum. That’s what makes it powerful.”
Amazon isn’t the only tech company that wants to see more AI education at community colleges. Intel has been working to scale community college-level AI education in all fifty states by the end of 2023. Its partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges has spurred the creation of an AI associate degree program, non-credit and credit-bearing certificates, bootcamps, and even K-12 exploratory opportunities across the country including at Houston Community College and Miami Dade.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, a community college graduate, has publicly advocated for more community colleges pathways to jobs in AI. The partnership with the tech giant has resulted in new AI programs geared at K-12 students, first-time collegegoers, and professionals seeking to upskill.
The tech company has made similar investments in HBCUs including Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Morgan State University, Howard University, Prairie View A&M University, North Carolina A&T University and Tuskegee University.
As educators and employers seek to equip more people with AI skills, industry insiders believe that more investments to help community colleges and HBCU expand capacity for AI education are likely to grow to in the future.