The Chronicle of Higher Education: Apollo Education Group Starts Nontraditional Course Catalog

March 05, 2014

The Apollo Education Group, the parent company of the University of Phoenix, is starting a website to help people find courses that teach skills they need to land specific jobs in the technology industry. Call it a course catalog for nontraditional courses, most of which have no connection to colleges’ degree programs.

The website, called Balloon and announced on Tuesday, will be pitched to adult learners who want to pick up skills that have been flagged by technology companies as requirements for certain job openings. The idea is to make recruiting more efficient for companies, while giving learners a better idea of what skills employers in the tech industry are looking for apart from the general ones indicated by a traditional degree, said Robert W. Wrubel, chief innovation officer at Apollo.

Here is how Balloon will work, according to Mr. Wrubel: Users will be able to browse actual job listings posted by companies such as Adobe and Amazon, see the skills those companies are requiring of candidates, and then search a database of 14,000 courses for the ones that teach those skills. For example, if you start typing “cloud computing” into Balloon’s search engine, the auto-complete function will show a number of listed job titles related to cloud computing. If you select “cloud security analyst,” Balloon will display three required skills, 18 relevant courses, and 27,729 job listings. It will also tell you that cloud security analysts typically make $53,000 to $79,000 a year.

The courses in Balloon’s database are from nonuniversity providers, including Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy. Eventually, said Mr. Wrubel, the site could add career-focused courses from traditional colleges, including courses offered by the University of Phoenix. Balloon will probably not weigh in on course quality, he said, but it might develop a Yelp-like feature with which users and employers could review and rate the courses.

Mr. Wrubel, whose own résumé includes executive stints at an advertising-distribution company and as co-founder of a chain of yoga studios, talked only in vague terms about Balloon’s business model. There are “dollars to be made” in arranging happier marriages between companies and job candidates, he said. Balloon might eventually sell recruiting services to companies.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Apollo’s announcement came on the heels of a report from Gallup suggesting that employers value a “candidate’s applied skills in the field” far more highly than where an applicant went to college or what his or her major was. That study was the latest in a series of recent reports, including one published last year by The Chronicle, that describe a mismatch between the training colleges provide and the skills employers want in job candidates.

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