Stacking to a degree

This week’s issue looks at college credit for noncollege programs, defining quality with short-term credentials, and a three-year employment pledge. (To get this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.)


Retroactive College Credit

The CEOs of Year Up and Generation USA aren’t shy about encouraging companies to look beyond the college degree.

Gerald Chertavian, a former Wall Street banker, founded Year Up in 2000. The nonprofit has provided free technical skills training and paid internships to 30,000 lower-income young adults. Graduates have an average starting salary of $43,000.

“We’ve seen a real shift in companies recognizing the need to create more opportunities for Black Americans and other underrepresented groups, including by moving away from degree requirements,” Chertavian says.

Likewise, 80 percent of students who graduate from Generation’s 12- to 14-week boot camps get jobs within 90 days of completing the program, which is free to participants. Sean Segal, the group’s CEO, says too many young Americans are pushed toward attending college. And he’s agnostic about whether the certifications and credentials students earn with Generation eventually lead to a college degree.

“What I care about is that there’s a clear pathway so you can keep stacking those credentials and move into the higher-paid jobs very quickly,” Segal said during a recent virtual event hosted by the Education Writers Association.

Yet both groups also work to ensure that participants can earn college credits—evidence that the debate over alternative education pathways often features the same sort of false binary we see in arguments over the existence of a skills gap.

Generation estimates it will train 6,000 students at its 15 U.S. community college partner campuses this year. The nonprofit, which first had success in other countries, says it looks for mismatches between skills needed for in-demand jobs and what job seekers bring to the table.

“Where is there entry-level demand that’s not being met by the market?” asks Segal. “We actually go watch people do those jobs. We see what are the skills they need to do them successfully on a day-to-day basis.”

The boot camp programs feature wraparound student supports, such as help with transportation and housing. Every participant gets a credential, such as a professional license, with Generation covering any related fees and working with students on job placement.

Segal says it can be a slog to create college credit options for Generation students, pointing to faculty member councils and accreditation as choke points.

“There is no way to roll out programs like Generation for credit, at scale,” he says. “It requires negotiations campus by campus.”

Generation also seeks to offer credit through prior learning assessment and articulations with online colleges. And in a particularly promising model, graduates of its boot camp at Miami Dade College retroactively get college credit after completing, with an option to stack up credentials.

“We’re bringing in a population that wasn’t otherwise accessing the college,” Segal says.

Graduates of the online program at Miami Dade earn a level-one cloud practitioner certification. They can then take four courses at the college to earn a level-five cloud architect certification. Graduates with that credential typically earn $90K to $120K a year, says Segal.

Companies pay a per-hire fee to the group, which helps it offer the programs to students for free. Operational costs are just $3,000 per graduate and job placement. Generation’s corporate partners range from Verizon to smaller employers, like ConSol, a tech start-up. And Segal says the need to do better on diversity in hiring is a shared priority across the group’s paying corporate partners.

Generation’s goals are ambitious, with a plan to train and place 500,000 people into jobs over the next decade. Segal says:

“As the economy continues to shift to professions that will require constant learning and upskilling, we need to think about the interplay between stackable credentials and credit. This could be a world where a series of stackable credentials could lead to credits and unlock a degree.

Frederick Thompson is a recent Generation grad. A student at Southwest Tennessee Community College, which is located in Memphis, Thompson is studying computer information services. He heard about the two-year college’s partnership with Generation and enrolled in the IT help desk administration program.

Thompson completed, earned a certification, and quickly landed a local job in customer support with VMware, a large cloud computing company. The job is a step up for Thompson, who grew up in foster care, was incarcerated, and previously was making $9.50 an hour at a job with 11-hour shifts.

He says “no” was a word he heard often when searching for jobs or housing. “I did not let that stop me,” says Thompson, who would recommend Generation to his friends and family. “It gave me hope.”

Photo by Tabrez Syed on Unsplash

Quality Short-Term Programs

The Biden administration is pushing what could be the most consequential and expensive higher education and job training programs since the GI Bill, including a proposed $62 billion on student success. At the same time, California and many other surprisingly revenue-flush states are eyeing a wide range of ambitious student aid programs of their own.

The trillion-dollar question is: Will the money be spent well?

The Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College last week announced a new collaboration to highlight research-backed student success solutions. And this week CCRC released a new set of studies on how states and community colleges can bring Black, Latino, and Native American adults back to campus and help them be successful, particularly in workforce programs.

The focus is on three areas:

  • Aligning short-term credentials with degree programs.
  • Improving the design and delivery of student advising and other support services.
  • Instruction and supports that serve adults from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

One of the studies endorses a controversial proposal to expand federal Pell Grant eligibility to academic programs that are shorter than 15 weeks, as long as they feature paths to longer-term programs. And to help speed up workers’ recovery from pandemic-related job loss, states could subsidize the initial enrollment of students in stackable short-term programs, according to the study by Richard Kazis, a senior consultant to MDRC and other organizations, and Lindsay A. Leasor, a senior research assistant at CCRC. 

The study cites Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grant, which has allowed Ivy Tech Community College, the state’s two-year system, to enroll 10,000 adult students in short-term, industry-recognized credential tracks. Ivy Tech seeks to expand the program’s enrollment to 130,000 students.

However, the study cautions about varying labor market returns for short-term credentials, noting that many fail to provide a significant wage boost, particularly on their own. To ensure programs are valuable for both students and employers, short-term credentials should be stackable—meaning aligned and integrated with degree programs.

The Kicker:

“For short-term, non-degree options to be a more equitable component of workforce education, particularly for minoritized adult students,” the study says, “policymakers and college leaders need better information on: which students are choosing high-quality, high-return programs; how they fare in those programs; and whether they continue on to advance in the labor market or further education.”

College Credit for Year Up

Year Up’s co-location model allows students to be dually enrolled at the group’s roughly 15 community college partners around the country. Students can earn college credits for the six-month, in-person portion of the program, through those partnerships or the group’s agreements with other colleges and universities.

For example, Northeastern University offers Year Up graduates from greater Boston the option of earning up to 31 college credits toward two bachelor’s degrees.

“As more attention is focused on skills-based hiring, this model illustrates how essential it is to provide new hires a path toward degree completion, so they don’t get stuck in entry-level jobs,” says Kemi Jona, Northeastern’s assistant vice chancellor of digital innovation and enterprise learning.

North Carolina’s Central Piedmont Community College is one of Year Up’s co-locations. The group serves as a student recruitment arm for the Charlotte-based college, says Daniel T. “JJ” McEachern, Central Piedmont’s dean of enrollment management. It also helps the college develop relationships with K-12 schools, community agencies, and businesses.

“Every new Year Up student is a Central Piedmont student, too,” says McEachern. “Year Up also reaches students who did not do well the first time at Central Piedmont by providing them with a proven pathway to a career.”

Year Up students earn credits from the college in software development, IT, and business operations. And graduates get academic support from Year Up after they leave the college.

“While most students complete a certificate in one of these three programs in a year,” McEachern says, “the goal is for students to complete an associate degree during the early years of their employment.”

An Employment Pledge

A new tuition-free nursing program from Chamberlain University and LCMC Health features unusual commitments, for both the two partner institutions and participating students.

Chamberlain is a large nursing institution that enrolls roughly 28,000 students. The for-profit is part of Adtalem Global Education, the former DeVry Education Group. LCMC, a nonprofit hospital system with six hospitals in Louisiana, this week said it will cover all tuition costs for up to 90 students who enroll in Chamberlain’s bachelor of science in nursing.

Qualifying participants will get up to three years of free tuition in exchange for committing to work for LCMC for up to three years after graduating and passing a licensure exam. Otherwise they’re on the hook for funding. Students can complete the nursing degree in three years, the university says, and the program does not feature any prerequisites.

More than a quarter of qualified applicants to prelicensure nursing programs in Louisiana were turned away last year because of limited capacity, according to the state. Chamberlain says the new tuition-free program is a targeted approach to improving the pipeline of nurses in Louisiana, which it seeks to replicate with other U.S. hospital systems.

Open Tabs

Stackable Content

“Coursera is betting that modularized and ‘stackable’ content will be purchased and consumed at a pace and sequence determined by its users,” Howard Lurie, principal analyst at Eduventures, wrote in an article on the online platform’s March IPO. “Our large learner base and brand creates a virtuous cycle increasing our value to educator partners and providing incentive for them to author additional content and credentials,” Coursera said in the IPO.

State Funding

State higher education appropriations increased 2.9 percent per student (full-time equivalent) last year, according to the latest edition of an annual report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). But eight years of consecutive increases have not been large enough to make up for declines during the last two recessions, and per-student appropriations remain lower than they were prior to the Great Recession.

Tuition Assistance

An “underwhelming” 36 percent of businesses that offer tuition assistance to their employees report incorporating the use of these benefits into their employee review processes, according to the results of a survey conducted by Wiley Education Services of 600 HR officials and 100 executives. The survey also found that 80 percent of respondents say offering employees a strong tuition assistance program will cultivate talent and develop leaders from within.

Degrees

Most Americans (63 percent) want their child or close family member to pursue a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree, New America found in its fifth annual national survey on perceptions of higher education. About eight in 10 respondents said community colleges and public four-year colleges contribute to a strong American workforce, with three-quarters saying the same about private nonprofit colleges.

First-generation college graduates have substantially lower incomes and less wealth than graduates who have a parent with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to a Pew Research Center analysis released earlier this month. And adults with a college-educated parent are far more likely to complete college than are adults with less educated parents.

A recent survey of 1,600 recent college graduates found that 69 percent say they graduated with skills needed to perform their job, and 25 percent use those skills frequently, according to the newly released results of the national survey by Cengage. But 37 percent of graduates don’t feel like college helped them land their first job, and 32 percent did not have an internship during college.

Assessment

“The pandemic has offered a real opportunity for universities to reimagine assessment, to make it more relevant, adaptable and trustworthy,” concludes a new report from Jisc, a digital education and research firm based in the U.K. “There has been, if not a widespread explosion of experimentation, at least an openness to explore the possibility of making assessment more authentic and relevant, testing knowledge and skills in a more realistic, contextualised and motivating way.”

Licensing

Let me know what I missed? Catch you next week — PF @paulfain

Community college enrollment is looking flat this fall

With a number of states—Colorado, Michigan, and Mississippi—reporting fall enrollment, the general trend appears flat. That’s in line with what the American Association of Community Colleges is hearing, and it raises questions about whether the country will actually see a surge in workforce training.