Georgia colleges to partner with businesses on curriculum, new degree

University System of Georgia officials announced Tuesday they will offer a new degree called “nexus,” based on a curriculm to be developed by the colleges, businesses and experts in high-demand industries, that they hope will better prepare students for the workforce.

The nexus degrees could be in areas such as financial technology or cybertechnology, officials said.

USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley told the state’s Board of Regents Tuesday its colleges and universities will “work directly with industry leaders who can tell us, ‘We want people who can do exactly this,’ and then teaching exactly that, at times using industry managers as instructors.”

Educators across Georgia have been under increasing pressure from business and government leaders to offer courses that provide the technical knowledge and practical skills to produce top-notch workers. That pressure will certainly increase if Amazon chooses metro Atlanta as the site of its second headquarters.

Katie Kirkpatrick, chief policy officer for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said, “This new credential program will help equip students with the skills needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow by collaborating with experts on the front lines of business.”

On Monday, the Brookings Institution released a study that found Atlanta placed 27th among 100 metro areas in the percentage of young adults with college degrees. Thirty-nine percent of Atlantans between ages 25 and 34 have graduated from college or achieved higher degrees, Brookings found.

The 26 public colleges and universities in the University System will partner with companies to create the course work. The Regents must approve the curriculum before it is taught.

Students must complete 18 credit hours to complete a nexus degree, which they will receive in conjunction with their associate, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree. Students must spend at least one-third of those credit hours in an internship or some form of hands-on training. Adult workers can also take nexus courses and earn a degree if they meet qualifications that show they can do the course work.

USG officials believe it’s the first system of colleges and universities in the nation to embark on such a coodinated initiative with businesses and industry experts. Some institutions, such as the University of Maryland, have partnerships with companies like Northrop Grumman to create course work in areas like cybersecurity. Northrop’s foundation gave that university $2.76 million in 2015 to continue the partnership, which started in 2012, according to the university’s website.

USG officials are exploring whether companies would make financial contribution to the state for the courses.

They hope to begin offering nexus courses as soon as this fall. Nexus came out of the system’s ongoing work called “College 2025” to increase graduation rates and prepare students for careers that pay well.

“Higher ed will need to be much more nimble and agile than in the past … and provide opportunities for lifelong learning,” Tristan Denley, the system’s chief academic officer, said during a Regents committee meeting, explaining nexus.

West Richards said he hopes the new degree program will develop more people for the rapidly growing financial technology industry. Richards is executive director of the American Transaction Processors Coalition and a board member of FinTech Atlanta, a coalition of companies aiming to make this region a worldwide leader in financial technology.

“This unique new degree has the potential to create job opportunities in an exciting field, and help our companies fill a huge demand for talent,” Richards said in a statement.

Several presidents of colleges and univerisities in the system declined Tuesday to discuss how they may implement nexus degree courses until they talked with their staffs. Nexus is intriguing, though, they said.

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