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This issue looks at scale in workforce training, a new health-care partnership designed for stackability, merged Burning Glass and Emsi data, and more. Thanks for reading. (To get this newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.)

A Thousand Points of Light

Despite all the recent attention to alternative credentials and job pathways—a flurry that includes this newsletter—most of the novel-seeming programs remain modest in scale.

Even the few oft-cited examples that have attracted noteworthy numbers of students, such as Google’s IT certificate or General Assembly and other established boot camp programs, still enroll far fewer students than a large community college.

At least so far, the high-quality innovation around the edges in postsecondary education and job training appears to be like what then-president George H.W. Bush called a “thousand points of light”—small local programs with a firm grasp of their community.

These initiatives feature real ties between postsecondary providers and businesses, as well as solid labor market intel. And as Steve Lohr of The New York Times reported this week, the most successful ones attack the so-called last-mile problem with nonprofit groups that offer counseling to students and help with housing, childcare, transportation and more.

This approach may continue to be the most promising way for lower-income Americans to stabilize their lives by getting the education and training they need to land a job that pays a living wage, while also offering them career advancement and the possibility of “stacking” college credit–bearing credentials up to a degree. (Although stackability remains more of an aspirational concept than a real option.)

The pandemic also appears to be adding momentum.

The most interesting models I hear about now enroll more students than the ones I found when writing a report on alternative credentials for Inside Higher Ed three years ago. Back then these alternative pathways typically enrolled a few dozen students. Now I’m seeing more like California’s Futuro Health, an unusual allied health collaboration that is on track to enroll 3,500 students this year. This is particularly true in the high-demand fields of IT and health care.

‘Jobs-First Higher Education’

A partnership that’s set to kick off next month between Propel America and National Louis University, dubbed Accelerate America, features this mix of ingredients and the ambition to enroll thousands of students in multiple locations around the country within three years.

Propel America is a national nonprofit co-founded by two K-12 leaders: John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, and Paymon Rouhanifard, the former superintendent of Camden, New Jersey’s K-12 system. It seeks to help young adults move from high school into a career and higher education, with a model that connects schools, job training organizations and colleges, employers and coaches.

The group conducted a small pilot program for medical assistant training last year in Louisiana, Rhode Island and New Jersey. The 33 participating students took asynchronous, boot camp–style courses over six months while getting guidance from a trained coach and a modest stipend to help cover their basic needs. Students also earned on-the-job experience through an internship with a Rhode Island–based health-care system. Almost all of the students in the pilot completed, with 80 percent getting jobs Propel America says pay living wages.

The expanded Accelerate America program will offer three health-care pathways in five states, college credits earned from the nonprofit National Louis University and a goal of helping students stack the credentials they earn into degrees.

Rouhanifard says Propel America recruits students for its boot camps through word of mouth, with referrals from alumni and through the group’s ties to high school principals, teachers and guidance counselors.

But the group first works with employers, he says:

We don’t begin recruiting and serving students until we’ve first established partnerships with employers in order to address and work backward from their hiring needs. Our employers make a commitment to interview our students who complete their credential and any work-based learning experiences for a vacant position.”

Participants in Accelerate America will be able to cover their tuition costs with federal Pell Grants. Rouhanifard says Title IV aid is a more dependable subsidy than job training funds from the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which he says is “incredibly decentralized” and features limited money and political decision making.

“Perhaps most importantly, Title IV ensures that the online credentialing programs our students complete come with college credits that can be articulated into umbrella associate and bachelor’s degrees,” says Rouhanifard. “We call this ‘jobs-first’ higher education, and we hope and believe our partnership with National Louis University will serve as a bellwether for the field.”

While students train to earn industry-recognized credentials, they meet weekly with their Propel America coach, both in cohorts of 12 to 15 students and in one-on-one sessions. The coaching focuses on helping students develop a professional vision with a longer-term career map. 

National Louis will accept any credential earned through Accelerate America, counting them as credits toward a degree, says Nivine Megahed, president of the Chicago-based university, which enrolls 7,000 students and seeks to provide internships to all of its undergraduates. Megahed says the university and Propel America share the view that people must be able to meet their fundamental needs to gain a sense of agency and self-efficacy before they can navigate additional obligations.

Accelerate America allows students to “gain a meaningful credential quickly, launches them into employment, thus economically stabilizing them, and then seamlessly allows them to add and build credentialing without missing a beat—when they are ready,” she says.

Megahed predicts that a few thousand students will complete the program in two to three years, while the university and Propel America add credentials and refine the model. And Rouhanifard says the approach is scalable in part because millions of young Americans need an affordable, rapid path to a living-wage job and career mobility.

The Kicker:

“We have intentionally developed our model to be easily deployed to any part of the country, rural or urban, red and blue, through an easy-to-follow curriculum, online credentialing, technology and a road map for implementation,” says Rouhanifard.

Merged Labor Market Data

Burning Glass Technologies and Emsi, two of the biggest players in the hot field of labor market analytics, this week announced a merger.

The two companies have more than 1,000 college and university clients, says Matt Sigelman, CEO of the new Emsi Burning Glass, as well as a growing number of customers among employers and government agencies. Both firms have doubled in scale during the last few years.

Sigelman told me in general terms how Emsi’s labor market data will complement and expand on what Burning Glass can do:

  • The focus for Burning Glass has been leveraging data from job postings to assess the landscape of opportunity for college graduates, with analyses of the skills, credentials and certifications employers seek. 
  • Emsi draws data from a broader mix of sources, including government databases as well as information from job postings, with modeling to fill the gaps in government data.

“Job postings are a powerful lens, but they don’t have all the answers,” Sigelman says, adding that Emsi’s applications tend to be more lay friendly. “The real imperative for us is to widen the use of our data within higher education.”

Pennsylvania State University, Northern Illinois University and the University of South Florida are among the more progressive institutions in using Burning Glass data to help students pick internships and to describe themselves to prospective employers, Sigelman says.

A growing number of highly selective research universities and liberal arts colleges are clients, he says, pointing to Princeton University’s efforts to give its graduate students more information about the job market outside the academy.

Colleges increasingly are using the company’s labor market data in student advising, to create skill maps of their course catalogs, and in program reviews, including when they are considering whether to consolidate courses and programs.

The Kicker:

“The job market is not only rapidly changing,” particularly in relation to the skills workers need, Sigelman says, “but it’s also one which is immensely depressing or immensely inspiring.” Often for the same reasons.

“People and opportunities are not far apart,” he says. “The power of the data is the power to bring these two together.”

Bridging the Gap

Automation and digital technology are transforming the world of work and how current and future employees are educated, according to The Great Skills Gap, a new book from Stanford University Press. The volume includes contributions from educators, employers and nonprofit and policy experts about how their sectors can collaborate in coming years.

Christine Farrugia, director of research initiatives at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, edited the book with Jason Wingard, dean emeritus and professor of human capital management at the school. It features the debate on credentials versus skills and discussions about apprenticeships and the need for people to reskill and retrain throughout their lives.

Farrugia says higher education and employers too often talk past each other. The volume seeks to bridge this gap and to “move toward broad-scale solutions that are both effective and sustainable,” she says.

Open Tabs

The ‘Great Resignation’

Four million U.S. workers quit their jobs in April, including large numbers in retail, warehousing, food service and office jobs. A “great resignation” wave may be coming, reported Erica Pandey of Axios, with 26 percent of workers saying they plan to look for a different job. “We all want to pursue life, liberty and happiness, and many of us have realized our job isn’t the best way to get there,” Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M University, told the Los Angeles Times.

Nondegree Hiring

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council has developed a green buildings career map that shows paths across 55 jobs in the industry, which employs more than two million workers, wrote Shalin Jyotishi, a senior policy analyst at New America’s Center on Education & Labor. The map identifies 33 jobs that don’t require four-year degrees and may not require any degree, which could open up opportunities for more Americans.

A February survey of employers by Pearson found that 58 percent in the U.S. are either considering hiring employees with nondegree credentials or have begun doing so, up from 40 percent in 2019. Top reasons cited for hiring workers with alternative credentials were bringing in diversity and a stronger-than-average work ethic.

Outcomes and Equity

“Small differences in the collection and reporting of racial and ethnic identification can significantly affect the ability of researchers and policy analysts to make valid and actionable findings about education and employment within and across datasets,” David Radwin, a senior researcher for California Competes, wrote this week. The group last year released a data dashboard on prosperity and postsecondary education in California.

A new report from Advance CTE and the Education Strategy Group looks at the first year of results from a project in six cities to strengthen career pathways and close equity gaps. The five-year initiative is part of $350 million JPMorgan Chase & Co. is spending to prepare people for the future of work. It began with a diagnostic assessment of each site’s career preparation system and data collection capacity.

Community Colleges

MacKenzie Scott this week announced $2.7 billion in gifts for 286 organizations, including 30 community colleges and four-year institutions, as well as a handful of groups focused on equity and student success. The gifts were cash and unrestricted, and the largest ever received for many of the institutions. “Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity, so we looked for 2- and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved,” Scott wrote.

Loan Repayment

A new visualization tool models the effects of higher education accountability regimes at the program level by tracking students’ loan repayment and earnings gains. An accompanying report on the tool, which was developed by Leonardo Restrepo at Columbia University and Lesley J. Turner at Vanderbilt University, describes several findings, including that many programs at institutions with poor overall loan repayment rates provide students with positive economic returns.

Edmit will cover six months of college loan payments for eligible graduates who are making less than $20,000 per year and who took out loans using the company’s platform. Edmit, which offers financial information to prospective college students, was acquired last month by Vemo Education, a prominent player in the income-share agreement space.


“Credentials should build toward degrees, which is why the future of education should be stackable: it’s the answer that allows learners to land meaningful jobs now while moving toward a degree,” Paul Freedman, president of Guild Education’s Learning Marketplace, and Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote last week in an essay for Inside Higher Ed.

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.