This week, Microsoft -- a pioneer in information technology -- announced that it has turned to Indiana University's Kelley School of Business -- a pioneer in online business education -- to create a new dual certificate program in cloud-based analytics.
The program will provide graduates with job-ready skills needed to participate in the digital transformation occurring across industries and companies worldwide.
Microsoft already offers training and certification to IT professionals and developers using both technology from Microsoft and from the open-source community, but the company was looking for a way to attain a deeper understanding of its uses within business settings.
The new yearlong, 12-credit-hour certificate program will be integrated with the Microsoft Professional Program's current curriculum for data science.
With a proven ability to teach well online and create successful specialized programs for Fortune 500 companies, Microsoft saw Kelley as a "progressive" strategic partner, said Chris Roy, Microsoft's senior director of channels, engines and product strategy in the Learning & Readiness team.
"You don't get a lot of industries partnering at this level with academic institutions," Roy said. "Part of our reason for reaching out to the Kelley School was because it is the top online school out there. They've been at this for 20 years. We've had many opportunities to talk with senior leaders and the Department of Education, and with this joint partnership between academic and industry, we think you are kind of on the cutting edge."
Talks between the company and school came to fruition Monday, when the dual certificate program was announced at the Microsoft Academic Conference for Higher Education at the tech giant's headquarters.
Richard Magjuka, who chairs both the school's Kelley Executive Partners and Executive Degree programs, said the Microsoft partnership is a natural progression from the school's other efforts to deliver business education online. He helped create Kelley Direct, which in 1999 became the first fully online MBA program offered by a nationally ranked business school.
"I've been at this business for 20 years and I have developed partnerships with many companies, but this was the first time that a corporate partner recognized our skills in teaching online as an important factor," Magjuka said. "They would always say, 'It's a really good degree from a top university' … but it turns out that with 20 years of practice -- like everything else -- our faculty are getting really good at teaching online."
Today, more than 2,000 students are served by Kelley's online programs, which also include seven respected Master of Science degrees, five certificates and 15 customized partnership programs. Kelley also developed specialized programs for other companies, including Cummins, General Motors, John Deere, United Technologies and Ingersoll-Rand.
Kelley is well known for its teaching, and its professors are ranked No. 1 by the Princeton Review. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked Kelley first in terms of student satisfaction.
Roy praised the Kelley School's ability to deliver an enriching curriculum in a way that enables learners to quickly become practitioners, to apply course skills immediately in their daily work lives. He was equally effusive about the school's responsiveness to helping Microsoft solve a crucial issue.
"Lots of schools we can talk to for two years and not have an action plan," he said. "Look at how fast we turned this around, and it's because you're a progressive, innovative school that has that deep, long history of online innovation. For us, that was key.
"This global skills gap and the need for data professionals is growing on a regular basis. We can't afford to wait two years while we convince them about the merits of the online model and go through curriculum approval processes. Technology changes too quickly," he added.
Roy said Microsoft has spent the past 25 years building content around its products, "and that used to be good enough." People could get certification from a major vendor and get a job. He said the company realizes that it needs to play more of a role in helping its users find career success.
"The job roles that are being created because of technology like Microsoft's are constantly changing," he said. "We'll be inventing new job roles in the next couple of years as the technology is continuing to evolve.'
He said Microsoft wants to bring users' validation of understanding of tools such as Azure closer together with real-world application and concepts, through the courses taught in the Kelley-Microsoft dual certificate, "so it stays with you."
Magjuka, who is also the Fred G. Steingraber Chair in Distributed Education, said he and his faculty peers have accepted the company's challenge to develop students into business people "who have this magnificent skill set to accomplish bigger and better things for their companies once they complete the program."
"The certificate has its own value, and we expect that many students will stop there and it will be all that they need to further their careers," Magjuka said. "On the other hand, there are two different degrees that the certificate prepares students for, should they wish to develop even greater expertise in applying cloud-based analytics to business issues."
Students will have the option of transferring credits into other online degree programs, including Kelley Direct and master's degrees in business analytics and IT management. Tuition for the dual certificate program in cloud-based analytics is $1,200 per credit hour for a total cost of $14,000.