Reporting on the connections between education and work

A key partner goes missing

A company-sponsored degree program that entered the market this month actually lacks a sponsor.

This story originally appeared in the The Job newsletter. (Sign up here to get the newsletter.)

If alternative paths to college degrees and good jobs are going to work for meaningful numbers of lower-income working learners, the growing consensus holds that both employers and colleges need to be at the table—often with an intermediary organization.

A new “sponsored degree” program announced earlier this month at a small event seemed to hit all the bases.

Arizona State and Northeastern Universities planned to enroll community college students who would be recruited by GetSet Learning, a small Chicago-based company focused on student retention, which would support participants as they completed bachelor’s degrees.

Most importantly, Deloitte was named as the initial corporate partner for the model, in which companies would pay for the students to earn degrees in exchange for a two-year work commitment.

One problem: Deloitte isn’t at the table.

“Deloitte and the Deloitte Foundation have no relationship with GetSet or its program described herein,” the company said more than a week after the program was rolled out.

I’m not really sure what happened. A Deloitte managing director spoke at the event in San Diego. And GetSet described the company as a partner in its announcement about the sponsored degree program.

One read is that GetSet was scrambling to lock in the various players before ASU+GSV, the Lollapalooza for education technology and investment. The complex deal involved multiple large organizations with their own existing and evolving relationships. Deloitte, for example, is an enormous audit, consulting, and tax services company with roughly 350K employees and annual revenue that tops $50B.

Another potential wrinkle is that corporations increasingly are investing in education and training programs though their foundations. Those gifts can be aimed at helping people in the company’s industry, among other goals. But to avoid running afoul of federal self-dealing rules for charities, funds can’t be used for impermissible economic benefits for the foundation’s parent corporation.

Google’s career certificates are perhaps the most established alternative credentials. The tech company’s philanthropies have supported the certificate program Grow with Google created five years ago, including with funding for a new $100M no-interest loan fund for students.

Google certs are designed to create entry-level opportunities for underserved populations in the broader tech industry, rather than to train workers on Google platforms or to recruit hires for the company.

Salesforce, however, directly funds its popular Trailhead skills training programs. The free online courses teach students how to use Salesforce and related tools. Meta takes a similar approach with its social media marketing professional certificate, a six-course online program on the Coursera platform that can lead to a Meta certification.

Whether or not to tap funding from a corporate foundation depends on what the program is trying to achieve. If the goal is to sponsor degrees for the company’s future hires, increasing the diversity and loyalty of its workforce in the process, experts say the money likely would need to come from the employer itself, not its foundation.

It’s uncertain at this point what will happen with the initiative managed by GetSet, or whether Deloitte or other corporations will participate in something like it. 

GetSet says the program invites higher ed institutions and employers into a new ecosystem that reimagines and expands education and career paths:

“While we all share in that mission, the program itself is new and already evolving. We welcome everyone’s collaboration to turn this shared vision into substantial change. There is never a single path from idea to reality. Transformative change requires a big tent, and we look forward to working together to advance the higher ed and workforce experience for all.”

For now, however, this version of sponsored degrees remains merely an interesting concept (unlike the new model Grand Valley State University and a healthcare company unveiled last week). GetSet’s announcement was one of many ambitious pitches that cross the transom as companies and nonprofits scramble to gain traction in workforce education, which many see as a promising growth market.

The Kicker: Without a corporate partner, this one isn’t ready for prime time.

This story originally appeared in the The Job newsletter. (Sign up here to get the newsletter.)

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