Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash

Welcome back. This week’s issue looks at Futuro Health in California and micro-internships in Kansas, as well as steep enrollment dips and huge federal funding plans. (To get this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.)

No Single Solution

Demand is surging for allied health care workers, including medical assistants, radiologic technologists, and physical therapist assistants. The pandemic has accelerated that demand, while also adding digital elements to both the jobs and the training in certain entry-level health care fields.

Yet running an allied health program with good outcomes and a viable business model isn’t easy. And several for-profit colleges with large medical assistant programs either collapsed or shrunk during the last decade.

The new Futuro Health is an unusual model worth watching, according to a wide range of observers. It’s also a complex solution to an enormous societal challenge, like most of the programs featured in this newsletter.

Kaiser Permanente and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) kicked in $130 million to create the nonprofit training hub, which launched just before the pandemic hit.

The approach is novel in that it seeks to bridge the education-to-work gap by supporting students with career exploration and coaching, education financing, and targeted education-to-work pathways to credentials and licensure—while making sure credentials can stack up to a college degree. And Futuro’s role is more convener than provider, as it brings together a wide collection of partners.

California alone needs an estimated 500,000 new allied health workers by 2024, says Van Ton-Quinlivan, Futuro’s CEO, who previously led workforce development for the state’s huge community college system and for Pacific Gas & Electric before that.

A problem of this scope “cannot be solved by one institution alone,” she says. “That’s why our approach is one of building an ecosystem of partners.

Western Governors University is part of the effort. The nonprofit, online university features competency-based programs and has become one of the nation’s largest universities. WGU quickly created a one-year medical assistant program for the project, with help from Futuro with lab spaces, says Ton-Quinlivan. It’s the university’s first sub-baccalaureate credential.

The for-profit North-West College and Pima Medical Institute are partners. So are several community colleges, which are providing “jump start courses” to help adult students gain confidence with online learning. Futuro also features a 15-week, fully online certificate for advanced telehealth coordinators from the University of Delaware.

Telehealth has boomed during the pandemic. And Futuro anticipates that much of this growth will become permanent after the crisis. It underwrote the enrollment of 163 public health clinic employees in the online certificate program from Delaware last fall. With a completion rate of 87 percent in that cohort, Futuro added 70 more slots this spring.

Likewise, Futuro is investing in three behavioral health programs to meet demand for mental health services. For example, a nine-month, online certificate for community health workers includes an emphasis on behavioral health issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and mild depression—all of which have spiked during the pandemic.

The organization waived tuition last year and for 2021. Students pay application fees (typically $50-$100) and a $20 per-month membership fee for access to a statewide network of health care workers who offer career and academic advising.

Futuro’s initial focus is California. But it seeks to expand to other states. Roughly 1,600 students attended the tuition-free programs last year. It plans to enroll 3,500 students in 2021.

Experts point to several intriguing aspects of Futuro’s approach. Its data-driven onboarding is built to scale, and prioritizes simplicity and clarity for students. The organization’s partnership with a large labor union helps in getting the word out to potential students, driving down student recruiting costs that can make allied health programs tricky to run.

The partnership focus works well for modern organized labor, says Adriano Allegrini, a director with Tyton Partners, who points to similar initiatives in building services and construction.

“If it is well executed, this can be a replicable model for several other industries where organized labor and the need to upskill the workforce converge,” he says.

The Kicker

Here’s why Allegrini thinks Futuro could be a blueprint for future partnerships:

  • It helps Kaiser deal with workforce upskilling and a shortage of qualified workers.
  • It keeps the unions relevant and solidifies them as training partners.
  • Union use of micro-credentials to replace or modernize the traditional apprenticeship model can increase union membership and make the credentials instantly relevant.
  • Partnering with WGU brings to the fore competency-based education, which is a viable (or even the best) model for these programs.

Enrollment Woes Worsen

U.S. undergraduate enrollment is down 5.9 percent this spring compared to last year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center said today. This is the steepest decline since the pandemic began.

All types of institutions were down, particularly with traditional college-age students. Community colleges took the biggest hit—11.3 percent, an even deeper decline than the 9.5 percent drop last fall. And the largest enrollment swing across racial and ethnic lines was among Latino students—down 13.7 percent at community colleges compared to a 1.7 percent increase last spring, with a 1.9 percent drop at public, four-year institutions compared to a 2.1 percent increase.

“In a sign of potentially long-lasting impact on the level of skills and credentials in the workforce, there is still no age group showing increases at community colleges, even after a full year of pandemic and related unemployment,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center.

Health care programs fared best this spring among popular majors for those pursuing an associate degree or undergraduate certificate. For example, certificates in health professions and related clinical sciences saw a 2 percent enrollment increase compared to an overall 7.4 percent drop across certificate programs.

Meanwhile, FAFSA completions—a key indicator of future enrollment trends—this month showed more potential bad news for colleges.

Higher Ed Spending

The Biden administration this week released details on its $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would add four years of government funded pre-school and community college.

The plan, which Republican lawmakers do not appear likely to support, includes these proposals:

  • $109 billion for tuition-free community college
  • $62 billion for “evidence-based strategies” to improve completion rates at community colleges and institutions that “serve students from our most disadvantaged communities”
  • $39 billion for two years of free tuition for most students attending historically black colleges, tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions
  • $80 billion for the federal Pell Grant program, which would increase the maximum award by $1,400, up to roughly $7,900

And Wednesday, during his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Biden echoed a previous speech in touting his $2.7 trillion jobs plan:

Nearly 90 percent of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree. Seventy-five percent don’t require an associates degree. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America. That is what it is.

Micro-Internships in Kansas

Parker Dewey is a pioneer in the growing field of micro-internships. It offers short-term professional assignments (10-40 hours of work) to college students and graduates, which pay $12-$25 per hour, with interns getting 90 percent of payments. Companies can use what students produce (market research, financial analyses, communications material) for their business as well as to hire interns.

The Chicago-based firm seeks to expand hiring pools and to offer opportunities to students who don’t attend highly selective colleges. More than 400 colleges and universities now partner with Parker Dewey, including a growing number of community colleges.

Earlier this year, the Kansas Board of Regents and the state’s Department of Commerce announced a project to tap Parker Dewey’s micro-internships for students who attend the state’s 32 community colleges or public, four-year institutions.

Using funding from the DeBruce Foundation, the program seeks to prime the pump for short-term earn-and-learn opportunities. Participating Kansas-based companies and nonprofits can get a 50-percent matching small grant of up to $250 per project completed by a college student.

The state offers students a free online career pathways tool before applying, says Tim Peterson, a senior project director for the Kansas Board of Regents. It also encourages students to explore an interactive site that reviews cost and earnings data of public college programs.

So far more than 500 students have signed up for the micro-internships, as have two dozen employers. The project’s leaders anticipate significant growth by the fall.

Peterson says:

“These resources and micro-internships experiences will help make Kansas students more aware of the high-demand and sustaining wage fields available to them throughout the state. This greater awareness will lead to a better prepared workforce and match between students, employers, and careers that will benefit not only them but the state’s overall economy.”

Brain drain is a serious issue in Kansas, which is projecting a 2.3 percent decline in its working population by 2028. The need to retain local talent and to seek diversity in hiring are drivers of similar multi-partner collaborations, says Jeffrey Moss, Parker Dewey’s founder and CEO, pointing to the P33 program in Chicago and a project from CincyTech and the University of Cincinnati.

The Kicker:

Moss says these programs show solutions exist within current systems for improving connections between college and careers:

“We’re showing that we can solve the problems without blowing up college. The students are job ready. We just have a matching problem.”

Open Tabs

Federal Policy

“Unemployed and underemployed workers do not care if job training programs are branded as infrastructure—they care that investments in job creation are paired with investments in the training they will need to access those good jobs,” Rep. Bobby Scott, the Virginia Democrat who chairs the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee, said in his opening statement for a hearing this week on the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan.

“The Biden administration’s failure to address the root causes of our inadequate education system also hampers our ability to cultivate a qualified workforce for the 21st century,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican and ranking member on the committee, said in her opening statement, adding that the plan ushers in “policies that will limit opportunities for workers and job creators while providing political favors to enrich Democrats’ Big Labor allies.”

Policy and Data

As states develop and build job pathways, leaders must consider how to equip people with the information and data needed to make informed decisions about which degree and non-degree credential programs to pursue, according to a new policy brief from the Education Commission of the States.

The U.S. data infrastructure is unable to quickly address policy needs for responding to the COVID-19 workforce crisis or future challenges, according to a recent paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which also said the legal framework for using state administrative data to inform policy is outdated.

Corporate Investments

Verizon last week announced it would spend $44 million on a free, online “reskilling” program to be offered by a group of nine community colleges. With a focus on diversity, the company is partnering with JFF and Generation USA, a nonprofit training provider, to try to prepare 500,000 people for tech careers by 2030.

FedEx made major investments in upskilling and reskilling in the past year, but “I still feel like we’re sewing the parachute as we fall because the change is just really coming that rapidly right now,” Tamera Maresh-Carver, managing director of global learning and development at FedEx, said during a recent Guild Education webinar.

Skills and Jobs

Degree requirements in hiring limit the economic mobility of Latino workers who have the skills to move into higher-wage occupations but lack formal credentials, according to a new report from Opportunity@Work. The nonprofit group found that more than half (55 percent) of Latinos in the U.S. labor force are skilled through alternative routes such as community colleges, apprenticeships, and on-the-job learning.

Large segments of the U.S. adult population lack literacy and numeracy skills that are associated with labor market outcomes, according to a new paper by researchers at the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education. The paper calls for a learning and assessment system to significantly improve the skills of tens of millions of adults who are being left behind.

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

A veteran higher education journalist and analyst, Paul focuses on the connections between education and the American workforce.