Amazon. Google. Uber. These are the names that come to mind when predicting the companies that will grace Fast Company’s Most Innovative List. But earlier this week, the Southeast’s very own Georgia Institute of Technology made waves when it became the only university (and only the second in over five years — following MIT’s debut last year), to earn a spot on the list.
Georgia Tech was listed #3 Most Innovative Company in the Education sector following Microsoft and Duolingo. According to Fast Company, the designation is thanks to the launch and success of Tech’s online Masters in Computer Science program, a first of its kind in the country.
Dr. Rafael L. Bras, Georgia Tech’s Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, said the honor is a confirmation of the university’s commitment to innovation and nontraditional education. “To be in the company of such enterprises as Google and Microsoft who are constantly innovating, it makes you feel like you are doing the right thing,” says Dr. Bras.
“We are a top-ranked institution, but we are absolutely not the typical staid high-ranked educational institution. Just as we innovate in research, we do so in education. We take risks and explore new ideas — that’s what innovation is all about,” says Dr. Bras.
When it launched in 2014, the master’s program was the first (and amongst top-tier research universities, still the only) computer science MS offered in a wholly-online format, through the “massive open online” (MOOC) format popularized by the likes of Coursera and Udacity.
In fact, Udacity is one of the partners that help make the program possible, at the cost to which it is offered. The entire degree costs about $7,000. Compare that to the close to $45,000 a residential computer science master’s would cost for an out-of-state student.
It’s an attractive option, especially to mid-career professionals who want to deepen their knowledge or change careers, but can’t give up their current job to drop everything and hit the library full-time. The average age of the online master’s student is 34.
Dr. Bras says employers have seen the quality of the program graduates. The other program partner, AT&T, uses the program to train its own employees and also recruits graduates. They provided $2 million in seed funding to get the program started.
“Graduates are seeing promotions, salary changes, or job offers,” says Dr. Bras.
With over 10,000 applications, over 3,300 enrolled students (as of spring 2016), and over 80 countries represented, Dr. Bras says he is proud of the program’s growth. While he doesn’t intend to grow exponentially — as that would compromise quality of both students and education — Georgia Tech is continuing to innovate by beginning a brand new program this year.
The university will launch an online Master’s of Science in Analytics, with the support of a corporate backer, as a joint program between the Colleges of Engineering, Computing, and Business, in August 2017.
It’s this kind of disruption and the commitment to providing a high-quality education to new groups of nontraditional students that earned Georgia Tech a well-deserved place as a Most Innovative Company.