More colleges and universities are partnering with tech companies to offer students training on digital skills that those firms and other employers are asking for. But there can be a gap between what employers want and what colleges provide. That's something Pathstream, a year-old company based in San Francisco, aims to address.
Pathstream partners with tech companies and colleges to develop certificates for adult learners on subjects like business and data analytics and immersive design. It also hosts the software-based instruction on its platform.
We spoke to Lisa McIntyre-Hite, the company's vice president of partner strategy and innovation and a senior advisor at Entangled Solutions, to learn more about colleges' role in preparing students for the workforce, how Pathstream builds out its programs and the purpose of stackable certificates.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
EDUCATION DIVE: What types of colleges and companies does Pathstream tend to work with, and how does the company pick them?
MCINTYRE-HITE: One of our first partners was Facebook. We also partner with Tableau on a business and data analytics certificate; with Unity, an immersive design platform, on a design visualization certificate; and with Salesforce on a business certificate. There's not a world in which we offer this kind of training directly to workers or employees; it's always in the context of an institution.
We have 23 college partners. Some are community colleges that serve local needs. We also work with larger, four-year nonprofit online colleges. Sometimes institutions write to us and say, "We're really interested in integrating digital marketing into our business program." But also there are times when we reach out to them because our missions align. We try to partner with colleges whose missions are similar to ours.
Is the curriculum you develop for online learning only, or is some of it is campus-based?
MCINTYRE-HITE: The curriculum is online, in the Pathstream platform. You definitely need a computer and you need to be working in Tableau, SQL or Unity. The platform includes the Pathstream Lab, which loads a web-hosted version of that software.
The heart of our mission is getting students working in these digital platforms early on, and taking the pain out of downloading new software, setting it up, going through all of those (steps) that can sometimes be frustrating and a blocker.
Which digital skills do you see in demand right now?
MCINTYRE-HITE: Data analytics, digital marketing and mobile development are some of the fastest-growing fields. The demand for data science skills has tripled over the past five years. The demand for digital marketing and mobile skills has more than doubled in the past five years. There were 300,000 jobs that listed Salesforce as a required skill and that was just in one year.
Other digital skills are a little more cross-cutting and not so career-specific. Throughout all of our programs, students are working in Excel or Google Sheets. We also weave in the soft skills. So students are communicating, collaborating, presenting, using critical thinking.
How does Pathstream design its curriculum?
MCINTYRE-HITE: We do a job task analysis, and our course author team looks at the skills needed and creates the curriculum backward from there to ensure it's career-aligned while weaving in the technology or software partner. You'll often see the platform-centric skill needed in that role, but you'll also see all those soft skills.
We ensure the curriculum weaves those things together while also bringing in academic theory. It's not good enough to know how (Facebook) Ads Manager works. You need to understand some of the related foundational pieces around business and theory.
Are these certificates stackable into degrees?
MCINTYRE-HITE: That's exactly right. The majority of our programs are offered for credit either as a stand-alone certificate or one that's integrated into the academic pathway of a bachelor's degree. Very few are noncredit. There's definitely a push to make sure there are multiple on- and off-ramps to the degree, and these kinds of certificates allow institutions to do that.
If you're working toward your degree and get a certificate along the way, you don't necessarily need to wait to get roles using that skill set, especially if you're an adult learner who works already.
How does Pathstream use competency-based education (CBE)?
MCINTYRE-HITE: CBE is really all about removing time as the proxy for student learning and moving toward a world where students demonstrate mastery of a competency or a concept and then can move on at their own pace. In some ways, I credit the CBE effort with helping to make colleges more open to looking at skills, dispositions and knowledge, and not just looking at knowledge as the one thing they do.
Colleges can't afford to say, "We only do one piece of this." There are misaligned perceptions around how good of a job colleges think they're doing, and then what business leaders say. CBE helps bridge the gap between academia and employers when we start to think about what competencies you need to have a job in your degree area.
What kinds of support does Pathstream offer colleges?
MCINTYRE-HITE: Our higher ed support team works closely with our college partners to advise them on a path to integrate this digital skills curriculum. We support them from initial curriculum alignment and review of their existing programs. We provide data to help support them through the governance process. Once we integrate and are ready to go, we support the university through very basic steps like how to integrate with Pathstream through their learning management system.
Part of our work is to train the faculty on how to use Pathstream and how to score and assess the assessments, all of which are performance-based. We provide the training as well as the professional development. For example, how does an instructor integrate this content with the platform, particularly if they're trying to integrate it into a course they've been teaching for a long time? What can that look like?