Amazon has one program “teacher support”. to help instructors at community colleges, HBCUs, and other minority institutions learn and teach AI.
A recent report from the Burning Glass Institute, Wiley, and the Business-Higher Education Forum is the latest study confirming the value of AI skills in the labor market. Yet high-quality AI education is still out of reach for many students who do not attend selective research universities, including many black and Hispanic students.
In addition, the colleges that enroll a high proportion 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.
As employers increasingly drop credential requirements for entry-level positions and explore skills-based hiring, the reality is that most employers are still reluctant to hire or be promoted without a formal degree or non-degree from a traditional college or university.
Despite the gradual improvement and expansion of alternative pathways to technology jobs, including tech apprenticeships, coding boot camps, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and industry award-winning credentials, most experts believe that the best way to meet the labor market needs for AI skills is by increasing the availability and quality of affordable AI education at public post-secondary educational institutions serving underserved students.
To that end, Center for Security and Emerging Technologies at Georgetown University and New America have both independently tracked the development of degrees and non-degrees in AI at community colleges and called for more investment in AI education at community colleges. Similar calls have been made for more investment in AI education HBCUs.
Responding to this need, Amazon and its Machine Learning University hope that this new upskilling program will help professors and teachers from community colleges and HBCUs learn and teach AI.
Completion of AI-related degrees at Community Colleges lags behind 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 skill set and not necessarily be limited to what’s covered by AWS’s own suite of industry certification offerings, many of which are also being embedded in college and university programs.
Instead, Amazon will help college instructors hone their expertise in AI and then help them teach AI through four-semester courses that can be configured as they 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 six boot camps offered over the course of 2023.
“AI careers will take many forms, and where you go to school shouldn’t really affect your career prospects. We want community colleges, HBCUs and MSIs to create more opportunities to learn AI,” Miller told me in an interview.
For colleges not selected for the teacher enablement cohort, Amazon plans to create free curriculum materials for any interested university 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 offering a bachelor’s degree in AI 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 university’s AI degrees, which have sent graduates to major employers like Tesla and McKinsey & Company.
Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, vice chancellor for staff instruction at Houston Community College, told me that Amazon’s offerings enable community colleges to overcome a major barrier to AI instructor capacity.
“We can’t compete with the pay that the private sector offers workers with AI skills, so support from tech companies is critical to upskilling our faculty. Staff training is a collaborative sport,” Burillo-Hopkins told me 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 degree and non-degree programs in AI and previously participated in Amazon’s learning opportunities for colleges. According to Perez, Amazon differentiated its support from colleges by emphasizing that it addresses the expressed needs of instructors, emphasizing that “AWS spoke with colleges to gather feedback as they create the curriculum. That’s what makes it powerful.”
Amazon isn’t the only technology company that wants to see more AI education in community colleges. Intel has worked at scale AI education at community college level in all fifty states by the end of 2023. The partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges has led to the creation of an AI associate degree program, non-credit and credit-worthy certificates, boot camps, and even K-12 research 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 college pathways to jobs in AI. The partnership with the technology giant has resulted in new AI programs aimed at K-12 students, new students and professionals looking to improve their skills.
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 try to equip more people with AI skills, industry insiders believe increased investment to help community colleges and HBCU expand their capacity for AI education is likely to increase in the future.