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A college-wide approach to accelerating student careers

Courtesy Wind Academy

This week’s issue looks at Spelman’s deep partnership with Braven, limitations of workforce data, Wind Academy and its new financing option, and the Indiana Achievement Wallet. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)

College-Wide Career Acceleration

One of the more promising models for helping lower-income and underrepresented college students transition to the workforce, Braven, is poised to achieve an elusive milestone in the college-to-career space: scale.

Spelman College and the nonprofit this week announced a new partnership that will allow every Spelman sophomore to participate in the career-acceleration project. Beginning next spring, Braven will work with more than 500 Spelman students per year over the next five years.

“Our goal is to provide students with the competitive edge they need to excel in any field,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of the historically Black Atlanta-based women’s college.

The partnership will expand the geographic reach of Braven, which currently works with Rutgers University Newark, National Louis University, and San José State University, its founding university partner.

The model “is designed to work at a scale of up to around 1,000 new fellows per year per site,” says Aimée Eubanks Davis, Braven’s founder and CEO. “A deep partnership with the institution of higher ed (in this case Spelman College) is critical for our model to be successful at scale.”

During and before the pandemic, the group’s 3,700 alumni outpaced their peers by 22 percentage points in landing a good job within six months. More than half (54 percent) of Braven Fellows are first-generation college students, and 86 percent are people of color.

Braven offers a credit-bearing course that’s designed to bolster confidence and fine-tune skills for success after college. Spelman sophomores will take the course, which will be part of a broader career project from the college. Fellows also complete weekly online modules on Braven’s platform and meet weekly with a coach and a group of five to eight of their peers.

Participants get 12 weeks of one-on-one access with a mentor in their desired career field, as well as professional development and internship and job opportunities through Braven’s network, a perk that persists after they graduate.

The news is part of a broader trend of employers and nonprofit groups inreasingly partnering with HBCUs on career development.

Braven is focused on embedding its work in traditional colleges, rather than an alternative pathway. Eubanks Davis addressed this issue and others in a recent interview with the Harvard Business Review. She said deep-rooted racial and economic inequality in education and the job market must be addressed before skills-based education can create a level playing field:

“Until those with the privilege of race and class continue to opt out of college degrees, [skills-based education is] not really going to do much for Black and brown students from low-income backgrounds. That is the brutal reality of race, of class, of privilege.”

Transferable Skills

The Indiana Achievement Wallet is a complex project designed to help working learners translate and transfer their skills and experiences to potential employers and postsecondary education providers.

The goal is to create a learner-owned record that reduces friction for learners as they transition between school, college, and jobs, says Rick Torres, president and CEO of the National Student Clearinghouse.

“How do you parlay that experience into something that colleges can justifiably convert to credit?” he says. “The point is to demonstrate that there’s a will and a capability.”

A wide range of players is working on the wallet concept, which grew out of the Trump administration’s American Workforce Advisory Board. They include IBM, Western Governors University, Skillful, and Goodwill. Ivy Tech Community College and several health-care companies are at the table for the initial pilot, which is focused on allied health roles.

A better understanding of skills-based taxonomies is needed to translate learner achievement, Torres says, as is a scalable technological ecosystem.

“The disruptive aspect of all of this is about opening the door to opportunity that was invisible before,” says Torres.

The project is one of several that are part of the Open Skills Network, an even broader coalition with similar goals. The OSN seeks to replicate the concept of the internet as a public infrastructure with the creation of an open, interoperable foundation for skills translation, says Wayne Skipper, the founder and CEO of Concentric Sky, a software development firm.

“For policy makers, backing open standards is an easy way to demonstrate measurable improvements in outcomes for workers, institutions, and employers,” Skipper says. “We hope that other states will be inspired by the Indiana Achievement Wallet project and will begin to explore the application of open technology standards in their own ecosystems.”

A learning and employment record (LER) like those created through the Indiana Achievement Wallet is only as good as the information that goes into it, experts say. The project is still young, but Skipper says it has promise.

The Kicker: “Bringing these kinds of stakeholders together to define skills, verify mastery, and identify new opportunity will be valuable regardless of whether or not the initial pilot is as successful as we hope,” Skipper says.

Wind Academy

As the job market collapsed last year, wind energy was the lone bright spot in the electricity-generation sector—gaining 2,000 jobs. Demand for wind turbine technicians remains hot, with projected growth of 68 percent, or 4,700 new jobs in the next decade. Median pay for these roles is $56K.

European company Siemens Gamesa is the world’s second-largest wind turbine manufacturer. In March, it began enrolling students in the new Wind Academy, a training program located in Orlando, Fla., that’s the first of its kind in the U.S. So far, 24 students have enrolled. Wind Academy seeks to enroll more than 100 students next year.

The three-week program costs $12,600 in tuition. It’s designed for students who want fast entry in the field, says Chris Spring, Wind Academy’s admissions manager. The training adheres to Global Wind Organisation standards, which gives graduates opportunities outside the U.S. Students learn from industry veterans and work on full-size nacelles and climbing towers. They also get career development support.

“Wind Academy’s curriculum is not stretched to include unnecessary electives and unpaid internships,” Spring says. “There is no six-month minimum program length like with other technician training, and there is special consideration for veterans who would like to complete the program.”

The academy this week announced it was partnering with Meritize, a private lender focused on career education. Put simply, Meritize uses three levels of underwriting, says Chris Keaveney, the company’s founder and CEO. It analyzes:

  • Supply and demand imbalances in the job market
  • Postsecondary providers and the applicability and quality of their programs
  • Student creditworthiness based on academic and military achievements

Wind tech is new territory for Meritize, Keaveney says. But he thinks similar partnerships could follow, as the green economy likely will be a fifth focus area for the company, which currently offers financing for programs in allied health, IT, aviation, and for industrial roles such as line work.

“This is our sweet spot,” he says. “This training is a positive ROI decision.”

From Work Shift

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Open Tabs

Tuition Benefits

Macy’s this week announced a free college tuition benefit program. The retail giant is partnering with Guild Education and will spend an estimated $35M on the program over the next four years. Macy’s regular, salaried, and hourly workers will be eligible. The debt-free benefit will cover all tuition, books, and fees for degree, high school completion, English language, boot camp, and professional certification programs.

Degree Requirements

In September, 26 percent of job ads for insurance sales agents called for bachelor’s degrees, down from 42 percent in January 2019, report Lauren Weber and Chip Cutter for The Wall Street Journal, citing data from Emsi Burning Glass and the Conference Board. The piece said an estimated 1.4M jobs may open to people without college degrees in the next five years.

Enrollment Woes

A new survey found that 48 percent of U.S. high school students said they are considering attending a four-year college, a decline of 23 percentage points compared to the survey’s findings from 18 months ago. The poll conducted by the ECMC Group and Vice Media also found that 53 percent of the respondents believe they can achieve professional success with education of three years or less.

Job-Based Learning

Coursera reported that its revenue grew 33 percent compared to a year ago, with large-scale reskilling efforts driving 75 percent of the company’s enterprise growth. “Our recently launched SkillSets and Academies, together with our growing portfolio of professional certificates, are well positioned to fulfill the rising demand for role-based learning among individuals and institutions,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera’s CEO.

Training Algorithm

Rhode Island and Hawaii are using an employment program that taps AI and wage data to make personalized training and job recommendations for workers, Eleanor Mueller reports for Politico. The Data for Opportunity in Occupation Reskilling Solution (DOORS) program is described as a “Netflix for jobs.” Federal stimulus money and a $2M gift from Amazon have helped it get off the ground.

Community Colleges

The heaviest concentration of the 24 states that authorize at least some community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees is in the West, according to an analysis from New America. The group released data on the number and type of community college baccalaureates, as well as research on state policies that govern the programs.

New Grants

Bloomberg Philanthropies this week announced a new round of $25M in grants for career education, bringing its related investments to $90M since 2016. Grantees include the Birmingham Promise and CityWorks D.C., both apprenticeship programs, and training for recent high school graduates through Propel America and Grad2Careers.

Job Moves

Stephen Moret is the next president and CEO of the Strada Education Network. Moret currently leads the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, a role in which he helped land Amazon’s HQ2 and led the implementation of the state’s $1.1B Tech Talent Investment Program. He also previously led the Louisiana State University Foundation.

Bill Hughes will become president and CEO of the Education Design Lab, a nonprofit focused on innovative models at the intersection of learners, earners, and the future of work. Hughes recently served as founder and CEO of JobReady. He also was chief strategy officer at Learning Objects.

Thanks for reading. Catch you next week. —@paulfain

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