This week’s issue looks at how companies are seeking career pipelines for high school students, including the millions who are being homeschooled. Also, the boom in cannabis credentials and a new potential setback for income-share agreements.

The Job
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A weekly newsletter about the intersection of education and work. By Paul Fain

‘Nontraditional Places’

Amid the nation’s messy economic rebound, industries are looking for different ways to attract and credential new hires. And a growing number of companies are starting to recruit earlier—including reaching out to some of the millions of students who are being homeschooled.

U.S. enrollment in public K-12 schools declined 3 percent during 2019–2020 due to pandemic-related disruptions. And a newly released investigation by NPR found that enrollment at most school districts in a large sample were down again, particularly in some of the nation’s largest public systems. Many of the missing students have enrolled in charter or private schools, delayed entering school, or are working, NPR reported. 

Homeschooling also is way up—a whopping 11 percent of U.S. households with school-aged children reported homeschooling last fall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, up from 3.3 percent before the pandemic. More than 16 percent of Black households were homeschooling, five times the previous rate.

As a result, finding a way to connect with homeschooled students is increasingly attractive to employers, particularly those that are seeking to diversify their workforce, according to Tallo, a free networking site for high school students. Businesses and colleges can reach 1.7M current or recent students through the site to recruit them or to offer scholarships.

“The interest is there. They want to learn. They want to work,” says Casey Welch, president and CEO of Tallo, which is affiliated with Stride K12, an online education company. Homeschooled youth account for a large share of the site’s users, 43 percent of whom are racial or ethnic minorities.

Companies use the platform like a virtual job fair. “They’re trying to find nontraditional places to find talent,” Welch says. Lockheed Martin and Boeing do targeted outreach through the site, for example. In addition to aerospace companies, Tallo’s partners tend to be in the IT, health care, retail, and advanced manufacturing industries.

Response rates are high for young people on the platform, says Rob Sentz, a consultant to Tallo who previously was the chief innovation officer for Emsi, a labor market research firm that this year merged with Burning Glass.

“They’re really open to apprenticeships,” he says, citing Tallo survey data.

Short-Term Cannabis Certs

The job market in the cannabis industry is booming, adding an estimated 80K jobs last year. And degrees, certificates, and certifications related to cannabis study are on the rise.

Lilah Burke reported on a recent cannabis career fair at Stockton University, which is located near Atlantic City, N.J. Her article for Work Shift captured the gold-rush vibe of the industry, which is heavily regulated.

Stockton is one of few U.S. institutions to offer a cannabis program. But more are on the way. For example, NJ Cannabis Certified offers a five-week program for $500 through several community colleges in the state.

“For young people who may not have that four-year degree, there are a lot of entry-level jobs in the industry,” Sarah Trent, the training program’s founder, told Burke.

IT Jobs and Security Clearances

One of the nation’s largest-scale alternative credentialing projects comes from the Capital Collaborative of Leaders in Academia and Business. With a footprint that stretches from Richmond, Va., to Baltimore, the CoLAB is developing pathways for 45,000 students to the National Capital region’s growing number of higher-wage tech jobs. It also has a goal for more than half of those students to be from underrepresented populations.

The effort has enlisted 20 local universities and 15 major companies—ranging from Amazon to JPMorgan Chase and Northrop Grumman. Its primary focus has been helping students at participating four-year universities to earn a digital tech credential based on job-relevant skills that are embedded in academic programs.

This year, however, the project has expanded to focus more on students who attend five large K-12 districts, three of which enroll a majority of Black students.

The idea is to expose students to tech careers early on, says Robert Owens, director of workforce initiatives for the Greater Washington Partnership.

“Underrepresented communities often don’t have four-year degrees,” Owens says, adding that the CoLAB is “leaning in and pushing for diversity across the board.”

Work Experience: Many tech jobs in the region require a federal security clearance. And employers have long worked to get students started early on their clearance. The CoLAB recently partnered with Parker Dewey, a micro-internship provider, so participating students can get paid, short-term work assignments in the industry, which can help them earn a security clearance.

Northrop Grumman created micro-internships for college students who were pursuing the CoLAB’s digital tech credentials. So did smaller companies.

“There’s not enough cleared talent out there,” says Chris Gros, vice president of talent for NT Concepts, a midsize tech firm in the Beltway that does national security–focused AI and machine learning work.

NT Concepts this year contracted with 20 interns it connected with through Parker Dewey’s platform. The company provided a personal mentor for each intern. NT Concepts plans to bring in a similar group of interns next year as it works to develop a pipeline of hires.

The Kicker: “We get real work done,” Gros says of the internship program, which “helps us bring more diverse candidates into the cleared world.”

Another Setback for ISAs?

Supporters of income-share agreements are facing a new challenge, this time a proposed rule in Colorado that experts say could ban most ISAs currently offered in the state.

Income-share agreements offer funding to students for college in exchange for a cut of their future salaries over a set period of time. A small but growing number of traditional colleges and alternative providers have experimented with ISAs in recent years.

Yet the industry is under fire as many Americans have soured on student loans. For example, the Biden administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has pursued one ISA provider, calling the agreements a form of credit that must comply with federal consumer protections.

The Colorado rule proposed last month by the office of Phil Weiser, the state’s Democratic attorney general, would add new disclosure requirements to ISAs, including on the estimated income projections for students. It also would add disclosures and a cap on the annual percentage rate. 

Most ISAs in the state would run afoul of these new rules if enacted, says Ethan Pollack, director of JFF’s Financing the Future initiative. And the rules could potentially cause problems for more philanthropic versions such as the ISA for DACA recipients from Colorado Mountain College.

Pollack says the proposed rule creates “more regulatory compliance confusion by doubling down on the ambiguity in the federal regs,” while also adding an APR cap that could lead to big changes for ISAs without adding any new consumer projection.

It’s unclear where Jared Polis, Colorado’s Democratic governor, might come down on ISAs. He’s been supportive of experimentation in higher ed. For example, in August, Polis told members of a state task force on student success and the workforce not to be “at all encumbered by the status quo of existing structure, traditions, and practices,” including, “if you come back and say ‘get rid of CU and CSU and here’s why.’”

The Bottom Line: Stayed tuned to the policy machinations in this purple state, which could be a harbinger of what’s to come elsewhere.

OPMs and Tuition Benefit Companies

A bigger regulatory question for next year is whether the Biden administration will pursue some sort of action aimed at online program management (OPM) companies and their university partners. The global OPM market, loosely defined, is worth $3.5B and projected to grow to $7.8B by 2025.

Consumer groups in recent years have criticized the companies, focusing in particular on revenue-sharing arrangements with colleges. Both the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have been investigating the industry, which is caught up in new controversies. And this week, a group of researchers from Penn State University’s College of Education released an examination of OPMs and the “online outsourcing regulatory landscape.”

Companies that administer employer tuition benefits may be part of this ongoing debate, particularly those with revenue-sharing models, rather than fee-based ones.

This week Bloomberg published an in-depth article on Guild Education, a high-profile company in the tuition benefit space. The report by David Yaffe-Bellany included comments from Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, which has been critical of revenue sharing by OPMs.

Shireman said Guild’s approach worries him because it might create incentives for the company to recruit and steer students into lower-quality college programs. He didn’t pull his punches, either, referring to the “sordid history” of revenue sharing.

Open Tabs

Enrollment Collapse

Less than half (46 percent) of Arizona’s high school graduating class enrolled in college in 2020—a seven percentage point dip—with the biggest declines in two-year college enrollments, according to a report from the Arizona Board of Regents. If this enrollment trend and the state’s high school and college completion rates hold steady through 2029, more than 75 percent of today’s ninth graders will hold only a high school credential or less six years after high school.

Community Colleges

The pandemic’s catastrophic impact on community colleges may also drive lasting improvements in how the sector is funded, organized, and operated, two experts from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College wrote in an essay. “The devastating effects of COVID are undeniable, but sometimes it takes a crisis to move systems into action,” they conclude.

Wage Gap

Latinos are projected to make up 22.4 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2030, yet they remain concentrated in roles generally dismissed as “jobs no one else wants,” according to a new report from McKinsey. Latinos are collectively underpaid by $288B a year while being overrepresented in lower-wage occupations. They also are less likely to receive nonwage employer benefits and are disproportionately vulnerable to disruption.

Degree Requirements

A third of respondents to a survey of 750 HR leaders said their organization is operating with a skills-based hiring strategy that focuses more on competency in hiring rather than overrelying on college degrees, a substantial increase compared to results from a previous survey. The new report from the 1EdTech Foundation builds on research from Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy.


Siemens Energy has teamed up with a group of academic and nonprofit organizations to create a new cybersecurity apprenticeship program. The consortium, which includes Idaho State University and Capitol Technology University, will couple academic preparation with real-world job rotations and certification pathways. The group plans to add new partners before accepting a first cohort of apprentices next fall.

The National Governors Association released a guide for making the most out of registered apprenticeships. Some of the advice is tried and true—such as setting a clear, statewide vision and pursuing federal funding. But the guide also features out-of-the-box ideas, such as Alabama’s focus on having state agencies create their own apprenticeship programs in order to both provide in-demand training and build new pathways into public service.

Pell Grants

A for-profit college trade group joined several industry organizations in calling for Congress to include for-profits in a proposed $550 increase to the maximum Pell Grant award. The Build Back Better Act would limit the increase to nonprofits. The American Trucking Associations and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing were among the groups that signed the letter from Career Education Colleges and Universities.

Experiential Credentials

Albion College’s new School for Public Purpose and Professional Advancement will offer degree-seeking students an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Students can earn a competency-based credential after completing 200 hours of professional training linked to badges that measure progress in specific professional competencies. The certificate also will require 750 hours of experiential learning on broader workplace skills.

Thanks for reading! The newsletter will be back in your inboxes in January. Keep the tips coming, and happy holidays. —@paulfain

The Job
Sign up for the newsletter

A weekly newsletter about the intersection of education and work. By Paul Fain

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