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The upstart Reach University wants to tackle teacher shortages by helping schools develop their own talent. Also, risk-based regulation in higher ed, ranking colleges by economic mobility, and how to fund career education. Sign up to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Apprenticeships for Teachers’ Aides

European-style apprenticeships remain an attractive but rare option in the U.S. They can be expensive to run and aren’t a good fit with our job training and education systems. Also, Americans aren’t keen on tracking young people into vocational paths.

Yet versions of apprenticeships are expanding in this country, with the gold standard being career-connected learning where students can earn college credits that count toward a degree.

The U.S. Department of Labor is trying to grow and diversify apprenticeships—both who participates and the range of industries covered. 

The Biden administration is particularly interested in supporting new models that embed apprenticeships in degree programs or otherwise build into longer-term pathways for career advancement.

This form of curricular innovation can be a heavy lift for colleges. And it typically requires approval from the regulatory triad—the feds, state agencies, and accreditors. But getting regulators to sign off on job-based learning might not be as tricky as many in higher ed think.

Regional accreditors, for example, say they’re open to backing hands-on models where students get credit for what they learn and can do on the job.

“We’re trying to figure out where the need is and how to support innovation,” says Jamienne Studley, president of the WASC Senior College and University Commission, one of seven regional accrediting organizations.

Take Reach University: The commission accredits the upstart nonprofit university, which offers “job-embedded” teacher education credentials. In 2020, Reach brought in the Oxford Teachers’ Academy as an incubated partner. The commission approved the structural change of allowing the university to offer bachelor’s degrees and licensure to full-time teachers’ aides and other school staff who want to become teachers.

Teacher shortages are a serious and growing national crisis, prompting lawmakers to temporarily rewrite rules for teacher qualifications, including by dropping requirements for bachelor’s degrees so schools can hire teachers with alternative certifications.

As many as 5M students will enter a school today with classrooms that lack a permanent teacher, says Mallory Dwinal-Palisch, Reach University’s chancellor and the co-founder of the Oxford Teachers’ Academy. There simply aren’t enough qualified teachers with four-year degrees in rural and urban areas that are underserved by higher education, she says.

“But the truth is that in the very same buildings with teachers’ vacancies are the adults who could fill those positions. Assistant teachers, paraprofessionals, coaches. We realized that if we could equip these high-potential individuals with a degree, that was the fastest path to filling the vacancies in the same schools where they already work.”

Much of the learning in the Reach model is location-based, as the aspiring teachers earn credit by working closely with students in schools—at least 10 hours per week for the first two years of the four-year program, and more than 20 hours per week after that. The discussion-based online courses are administered two nights a week by the California-based university.

Students in the bachelor’s degree program who qualify for financial aid pay $75 per month, or $900 per year, to cover all fees for tuition, books, and materials. Roughly 100 students enrolled in fall 2020, with a wait list of thousands. Now more than 400 full-time students are enrolled, mostly in Alabama, Arkansas, California, and Louisiana—where state agencies have approved the program.

“Reach focuses on enabling school employers to grow their own talent from the local community,” says Dwinal-Palisch, a former Rhodes Scholar who studied the teacher labor supply in the rural South.

That means working with school districts to ensure that current funding sources are put to work, she says: “For example, schools are already paying for English language aides and paraprofessionals. It doesn’t cost a school anything extra to encourage them to engage in job-embedded learning that will give them the degree and training they need to become teachers.”

The job-embedded bachelor’s degree could be replicated in other fields, says Dwinal-Palisch. And she says some of the most innovative models in higher education are emerging with support from the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

A few of the degree-issuing examples worth watching, according to Studley, include the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, Pardee Rand Graduate School, and the AFI Conservatory.

Dwinal-Palisch says the accreditation process is important for innovation because of its focus on continuous improvement and peer review, and because it helps ensure that upstart models can enter the market with some assurance of quality and protection for learners.

The Kicker: “Absent such an assurance, there is no market for innovation: no one will try it,” she says.

Risk-Based Regulation

New risk-based regulation for colleges serving GI Bill recipients is being tested in six states, with potential implications for higher education regulation more broadly.

Consumer protection proposals aimed at college students who are veterans tend to have a better chance of getting bipartisan support than those designed for the rest of higher education. But they nevertheless can serve as testing grounds for what might work more broadly.

The new pilot framework from EducationCounsel and the National Association of State Approving Agencies seeks to help protect GI Bill recipients from colleges that leave veterans worse off or that may close abruptly. This version of risk-based regulation has been endorsed by the American Legion.

The model uses 20 metrics—including graduate earnings, completion rates, and the percentage of institutional revenue spent on instruction—to create a risk-based filter to separate higher-risk colleges from lower-risk ones. Such a filter, used well, might give a boost to quality control through the existing regulatory system.

Nathan Arnold, a senior policy adviser at EducationCounsel, told Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed that all six participating state agencies found problems they would not have during standard compliance surveys. And Arnold says those results hold lessons for all three legs of the triad. 

Lederman quoted several higher education accountability experts, who applauded this model of risk-based approach regulation. But some noted the challenge in applying it more broadly, particularly to traditional colleges and universities.

“The fundamental question here is, if data suggest a college should be closed, will policy makers follow through and allow state or federal agencies to close a college?” Robert Kelchen, professor and head of the department of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told Lederman.

Ranking by Economic Mobility

Michael Itzkowitz has played a prominent role in elevating data on how college students fare after graduation. A senior fellow at Third Way, Itzkowitz directed the College Scorecard shortly after its creation by the Obama administration.

Last week Third Way published a new college ranking system (yes, rankings, not ratings) that assesses the degree of economic mobility that colleges provide. Third Way’s new Economic Mobility Index builds on Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights and other research with a price-to-earnings premium calculation that looks at how long it takes low-income students to recoup their educational costs.

To provide a fuller picture of economic mobility, the index includes the proportion of Pell Grant recipients institutions enroll. The result is a ranking of 1,320 bachelor’s degree–granting institutions.

Universities that provide the most economic mobility under this ranking are Hispanic-serving institutions concentrated in California, Texas, and New York, including several campuses of the California State University system. 

Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost of enrollment at Oregon State University, created a visual tool for viewing the data from Third Way. You can see it on his blog, Higher Ed Data Stories.

Braiding Funding in Career Education

Two recent reports seek to identify promising funding models in workforce education.

As New America and the Nonprofit Finance Fund note in their new report, many community college students are not interested in pursuing a degree and are instead looking to get skills and credentials to advance in their careers. Yet state and federal funding is heavily tilted toward degrees. 

The analysis explains how community colleges can identify the full cost of sustaining high-quality nondegree programs. It also describes where college leaders can go to secure funding, including from government sources, performance-based funds, institutional revenue, and nontraditional sources of government funding.

For example, Broward College invested $1M of seed money in the Broward UP program, which has yielded nearly 50 times that amount in additional public and philanthropic funding.

In their new report, Advance CTE and the Education Strategy Group highlight how several states have tapped multiple government and philanthropic funding streams to support career education programs.

Delaware, for example, has been “braiding funding” from multiple federal pandemic relief funds, as well as philanthropic support, for a $16M expansion of Delaware Pathways 2.0, which links education and workforce development programs and allows thousands of K-12 students to explore careers in health care, IT, finance, and engineering.

From Work Shift

Federal program extends training and ‘a compass’ to small business owners
Federal program extends training and ‘a compass’ to small business owners The Small Business Administration is investing in more support and training for minority entrepreneurs and businesses in underserved communities.

Open Tabs

Ed-Tech Boom

Education technology companies in the U.S. raised $8.2B of investment capital last year, nearly four times the previous year’s total, according to an analysis by Tony Wan, head of investor content for Reach Capital. Handshake, Degreed, and Guild Education were among companies with the biggest investment hauls. “Pandemic-fueled growth across the education sector has attracted the biggest funds in the world,” Wan wrote.

Pearson has acquired Credly, a digital credential company, for $200M. Many colleges and universities are among the 2K organizations that use Credly and its digital badges. Pearson, a U.K.-based publisher that previously had a stake in Credly, said the acquisition will expand its capacity in workforce skills, which includes analysis and assessment. In 2018, Credly acquired Pearson’s Acclaim credential business.

Cengage Group has acquired Infosec, a cybersecurity education provider, for $191M. Infosec’s popular online courses and in-person bootcamps are designed for upskilling tech workers. Infosec will join the ed-tech company’s ed2go, which provides online courses and certifications for in-demand industries. More than half the 600K unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. require at least one certification.

Digital Skills

The AARP Foundation is tapping a $10M grant from to provide free digital skills training to 25K lower-income Americans who are age 50 and older, with a focus on women and people of color. Beginning in March, the foundation will work with community organizations across eight states to offer five-week courses on videoconferencing, information security, mobile payment services, and other foundational skills.

Completion Gains

The national six-year completion rate for students starting at two-year or four-year institutions increased to 62.2 percent, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. That rate, for students starting in 2015, is 1.2 percentage points higher than the year before. Adult learners (age 24+), those starting at community colleges, and Black students saw the biggest increases in completion.

Apprenticeship Payoff

Completers of LaunchCode’s education and apprenticeship program had an average annual income of $66K, compared to $41K for applicants who were not accepted to the program, according to a new analysis from the Brookings Institution. The St. Louis–based LaunchCode, a nonprofit, features roughly six months of free, part-time evening courses in technical skills, followed by a full-time paid apprenticeship.

Gig Workers

The public workforce-development system is failing to adequately serve gig workers, Kelsey Berkowitz, a senior policy analyst at New America, argues in a brief. Workforce boards lack data on gig workers and could do more to help them translate their skills and experience to advance in their careers. For example, the federal government could encourage the development of digital badges aimed at gig workers.

Equity in Manufacturing

A group of 13 community colleges around the country has been tapped by the Century Foundation and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance to join an effort to advance racial equity in manufacturing. “Our coalition will work to align credential programs at community colleges with industry needs, and to ensure that a more diverse workforce feels supported and is able to take advantage of such opportunities,” says Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at TCF and one of the organizers of the coalition.

That’s two consecutive issues on quality assurance and accreditation! Catch you next week. —@paulfain

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