Tech companies and some businesses in other industries, impatient with the speed of change in college, are taking matters into their own hands by designing computer science and other STEM courses themselves.

Scott Gordon had just arrived in his job as provost of Eastern Washington University when an alumnus approached him at a meet-and-greet in the Skyline Ballroom of Spokane’s Hotel RL.

The event was new, too. Called the Eagle Summit after the public university’s athletics mascot, it was meant to build enthusiasm among the school’s supporters. That has become increasingly crucial at a time when Americans’ faith in higher education is declining, governments are investing less money in it, and employers complain it’s producing too few graduates with skills they need.

Eastern Washington in general and Gordon in particular were determined to turn that around. So when the alumnus, who worked for Microsoft, told him that the Redmond, Washington-based technology behemoth would be hiring huge numbers of people to specialize in data analytics, he went back to the campus to fast-track a new degree program in that subject.

One year later, Eastern Washington’s bachelor’s degree program in data analytics had its soft launch this semester, enrolling a handful of upperclassmen. It will debut more broadly next year for an entire entering class. The first trickle of graduates is expected next summer.

That’s the fastest the university has ever introduced a new degree program, a feat it achieved by adopting off-the-shelf course materials already developed by Microsoft that the company is distributing to help turn out more employees with data and computer-science skills.

It was a rare solution to the massive problem of conventional higher-education institutions that largely operate at a 19th-century pace trying to keep up with the fast-changing demands of 21st-century employers — and an example of how tech companies and some businesses in other industries, impatient with the speed of change, are taking matters into their own hands by designing courses themselves.

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