Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash

This week’s issue features Forage and Podium, two players in the hot experiential learning space. Also, pathways to better jobs for young people, final fall college enrollment data, and a push for certificates by Texas. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)

Low-Cost, Low-Risk Experience

As companies scramble to hire early-career workers, demand is rising for experiential learning platforms that help colleges connect students with job-relevant training as well as potential employers.

Forage, for example, is a last-mile training provider that offers employer-endorsed work simulations to college students. Roughly 2.5M students have registered for the free simulations since the pandemic began, with 150K signing up over three weeks in a recent month. Forage has partnered with big companies like Accenture, Electronic Arts, and JPMorgan Chase, which are recruiting students through the simulations.

Likewise, Podium Education sees itself as more of a player in this space than as the bootcamp provider it looks like at first glimpse.

The company provides in-demand tech training that’s embedded in the curricula of 36 university partners around the world. Students earn six credits by completing Podium’s semester-long courses in data science, coding, and e-commerce. The programs feature case studies drawn from work at companies like Airbnb and Spotify, serving as a type of credit-bearing virtual internship.

Forage and Podium are on a continuum of companies that are seeking to extend college career services, says Kemi Jona, assistant vice chancellor for digital innovation enterprise learning at Northeastern University, an industry leader in experiential learning. Higher ed largely has dropped the ball in giving young people low-cost, low-risk work experiences.

“Increasingly, this is what students are looking for,” he says. “It’s a great market now, because colleges neglected it for a long time.”

Ideally, colleges link virtual internships and work simulations to academic programming, experts say. Riipen has had notable success with its course-connected, work-based learning marketplace, including through an expanding partnership with Arizona State University.

Forage, which started in Australia before relocating its HQ to San Francisco, offers a version of this model. Employers are its customers. They collaborate with Forage to develop the five- to 10-hour simulations, providing subject matter input and content on their culture and work. JPMorgan Chase is the company’s biggest user, with four simulations on the site. One gives students a chance to explore life as a software engineer at the company.

“Throughout the virtual experience, you’ll familiarize yourself with JPMorgan Chase frameworks and apply your technical skills to a hypothetical request from the firm’s trading floor to analyze and visualize data in a new way,” Forage says on its site.

Students who finish the simulation get a certificate of completion from the firm. If they apply to its summer software engineer internship, JPMorgan Chase will prioritize their application. Many simulations feature pathways to hiring for completers, as well as badges and certificates they can display on LinkedIn or Handshake. Neissa Dorsinville, for example, landed a job at JPMorgan Chase after completing the software engineering virtual experience while she was a student at CUNY’s Brooklyn College.

Dorsinville says the experience “helped me with knowing exactly what I want to do.”

The bite-size simulations are free to students and Forage’s 380 college partners, 160 of which are located in the U.S. Some colleges are integrating the virtual work experiences into their courses, meaning students can earn college credit by completing them.

Curriculum integrations are good for all involved, says Thomas Brunskill, Forage’s co-founder and CEO:

“They are free for professors to integrate, universities ensure their curriculums are responsive to workplace needs, they enable students to consume content which prepares them for the workforce, and companies can bridge that gap between the world of learning and work, resulting in more well-rounded graduates.”

College Credit and Equity: Podium’s leaders describe the company’s focus on credit-bearing programs in terms of college access. The courses are not aimed at computer science and STEM majors, and they don’t include prerequisites in math. As a result, Podium’s student demographics—it expects to enroll 15,000 students this year—mirror that of the overall enrollments of their 36 campus partners.

“We believe that all students, regardless of major or background, should be able to access these in-demand skills while they are pursuing their undergraduate degree,” says Chris Parrish, Podium’s president of university partnerships. “Since our programs run for credit, students can leverage federal financial aid to pay for the experience.”

The instructional design process for the company begins with data analysis of entry-level job descriptions, with a focus on career readiness. The ideal roles for its completers aren’t in data science, Parrish says. They might be compliance officers who use Excel in their work.

Podium makes money with a tuition fee from its university partners, charging less than a 50 percent share of tuition revenue.

Parrish says colleges sign up rather than trying to offer this content themselves because of the company’s spending on content quality, scaling potential, and connections to careers.

“Our programs are produced at Netflix-level quality and include weekly LiveLabs, which are inspired by best-in-class streaming experiences like Peloton and Twitch,” he says.

Jona says the boomlet for experiential learning platforms is driven by the economies of scale they offer to both colleges and employers. Northeastern employs more than 100 staff members who work solely on its cooperative program, an investment few colleges can or will make. And a successful platform offers companies the ability to reach many colleges rather than pursuing one-off partnerships.

The Kicker: “It’s no surprise that companies are filling that gap in the marketplace,” says Jona. “Building that employer network is tremendously hard work.”

From Work Shift

Texas reworks its 2030 college plan to reflect a new reality
Texas reworks its 2030 college plan to reflect a new

The state’s new “talent strong” plan takes a more expansive view of postsecondary attainment, setting goals for older adults and counting noncollege certificates for the first time.

Down a Million Students

Total undergraduate enrollment dropped by 3.1 percent, or 465,300 students, at U.S. colleges this past fall, with a 3.5 percent dip among older students. The overall undergraduate decline since the pandemic began now sits at 6.6 percent—more than 1M students.

Those are the bottom-line findings from the final, virtually comprehensive report on fall 2021’s enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The new numbers show a smaller drop than previous estimates from the center, but not by much.

Community colleges remained the hardest hit, with a 3.4 percent decline in the fall and a two-year dip of 13.2 percent. Four-year for-profits were down 9.3 percent in the fall, continuing their steep, multiyear slide after a 5.3 percent uptick in fall 2020.

The pandemic’s disruption to college programs that require significant hands-on learning, such as welding or car repair, has contributed to the disproportionately large enrollment decline of men at community colleges, according to a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The researchers also found that COVID-related enrollment declines at two-year colleges likely are contributing to labor supply chain woes.

First-year U.S. student enrollment stabilized in the fall after collapsing the previous year. But it was still down 9.2 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. And this year’s high school seniors are filling out federal financial aid forms at the same rate as the previous year’s class. The metric, which the National College Attainment Network tracks, hints at future enrollment patterns. So far, at least, it suggests this coming fall will be flat.

The five largest majors at four-year colleges saw steep enrollment declines, with liberal arts seeing the biggest drop (7.6 percent), the center found. Computer sciences and psychology were up. At community colleges, computer sciences and engineering had the biggest increases.

The pandemic-fueled enrollment crisis for higher ed follows more than a decade of smaller drops. And a predicted demographic cliff is looming.

The Kicker: “Without a dramatic re-engagement in their education, the potential loss to these students’ earnings and futures is significant, which will greatly impact the nation as a whole in years to come,” says Doug Shapiro, the research center’s executive director.

Better Jobs for Young People

As many as one in three young people were disconnected from both school and work earlier in the pandemic.

To help young Americans get back on track, a new report from JFF describes 15 high-growth career pathways that pay median wages of at least $20 per hour and are accessible to workers with limited professional experience and education.

These professions include roles in sales, health care, protective services, IT, and transportation. Employers typically are keen to recruit young people for these jobs, JFF says, in part because they see investing in young talent as a way to develop a more diverse and representative workforce.

Yet last summer, the most common occupations for young people were fast food workers, cashiers, retail salespersons, restaurant servers, and laborers and material movers, all of which pay median hourly wages of $11 to $15.

The report argues that community organizations and training providers should use local slices of current labor market data to help find pathways for young people into better-paying careers. Using that information, they should offer occupation-specific specialized skills training. When equipped with these skills, young workers may be able to make moves between jobs that require related competencies.

For example, a retail sales employee who makes $13 an hour could gain skills in customer service, active listening, and social perception, which JFF says are required to succeed as a computer user support specialist, who typically earns $25 per hour.

Once a young person has experience in that role, they could pick up more specialized skills—by earning an A-plus certification in a short-term college program, or a Google IT support certificate. Then they could advance further by becoming a network and computer systems administrator, the report found, which has a median hourly wage of $40.

Open Tabs

Education Benefits

Career Karma, which connects job changers with training programs, has announced $40M in new funding. The company, which so far has focused on bootcamps, is expanding postsecondary offerings in its training marketplace. It has partnered with three online program management companies to feature college courses while also moving into the employer tuition benefit space.

Scarcity Premium

“Americans of all stripes are mad that college cannot do what it used to do—help the degree holder get ahead—because so many of the people the college graduates would need to get ahead of are also college grads,” Clay Shirky, vice provost for educational technologies at New York University, writes. “Just having a college degree can’t deliver above-average outcomes in any industry where the average worker has one.”

Performance Funding

California governor Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal would tie annual funding increases for the University of California and California State University systems to new commitments on workforce alignment and closing equity gaps. It also includes new student retention funds for the state’s community colleges and would build on an agreement to improve student transfer and completion as well as alignment with K-12 and the workforce.

Working Learners

A forthcoming report to the National Science Foundation from 180 education leaders who are seeking to develop an applied science to support working learners will be the focus of a virtual forum next week. I’ll moderate the discussion, convened by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. It will feature Sarah Turner, university professor of economics and education at the University of Virginia, and other expert speakers.

Intensive Advising

The Institute for College Access & Success published a research and equity agenda for organizations that boost student success through intensive advising and other supports. These groups include Stay the Course, CUNY ASAP, InsideTrack, and One Million Degrees, which has increased college graduation rates by as much as 73 percent. TICAS and its research partners will share findings with policy makers.

Workforce Research

WorkRise, a research network on economic mobility hosted by the Urban Institute, has awarded $2.4M in research grants. The awards fund 22 projects to examine policy, employer practices around diversity, apprenticeships and workforce training, and more. For example, one team including Harvard University’s Project on Workforce will create a workforce almanac to track the performance of job training programs.

Job Moves

Third Way manages a newish higher ed policy job board that features open positions at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, the Communities Foundation of Texas, New America, the National College Attainment Network, and the Bipartisan Policy Center, among others.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what I missed? —@paulfain

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