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

Deloitte will pay for degrees from ASU and Northeastern for future workers who GetSet Learning will recruit from two-year colleges. Also, Merit America and Year Up’s plans for finding students for Google’s new training fund.

Degree, Job, and Two-Year Commitment

Instead of paying staffing firms $25K or more to replace each employee in high-turnover fields, a new project seeks to redirect that corporate spending toward a college degree completion program aimed at hiring more diverse—and loyal—entry-level workers.

The accounting giant Deloitte is the first corporate partner to sign up for the effort led by GetSet Learning, a Chicago-based company focused on student retention. GetSet will recruit participants who are second-year community college students or who hold 60 college credits.

As a first step, the company will connect participants with an online microinternship—a paid, asynchronous work project of 10 to 20 hours on a platform such as Parker Dewey. Deloitte and other partner companies then will be able to recruit students who complete the microinternships to offer them “sponsored degrees” from either Arizona State University or Northeastern University:

  • Students will pay no tuition or fees for the last two years of the degree program and will be able to choose from the wide range of online degrees offered by the two initial partner universities.
  • In exchange, students will agree to work for at least two years at the sponsoring employer after they graduate.

The all-in cost for the degree programs and student supports will be just under $25K per participant, according to GetSet. Students will be on the hook for those costs—which are being financed by Stride Funding—if they quit their job in less than two years. 

The benefits of a guaranteed job and covered tuition to earn an online degree from ASU or Northeastern will be strong, the project’s leaders argue. And companies are likely to recoup most of their investment with what they save in employee recruitment and retention.

“The model is exciting because it does have the potential to scale,” says Kemi Jona, assistant vice chancellor of digital innovation and enterprise learning at Northeastern. “There’s skin in the game on both sides.”

GetSet will prioritize recruiting lower-income students who are Black, Latino, or Indigenous. 

“Going to the Top 20 campuses—we’ve done that for our whole existence,” says Jason Greenlee, an audit managing director for Deloitte. “Going to the community college level, that’s something we haven’t done.”

Accounting firms are experiencing high employee turnover rates. And Deloitte is spending $75M in an effort to diversify the tax and accounting professions.

Greenlee says a key driver of the industry’s retention problem is a lack of relationship building with entry-level workers. Connecting while a future employee is still in college will go a long way toward developing deeper ties.

“There’s a finish line,” he says. “There’s a real, tangible career there for you.”

Deloitte also will pair participants with mentors, which Greenlee says is particularly important for entry-level workers from underserved backgrounds.

The partnership’s potential payoff for learners was a draw for ASU, says Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of the university’s learning enterprise. She described the project as a “way to grow economic mobility and pathways for students.”

Other colleges and universities are seeking to join the effort, says Karan Goel, GetSet’s CEO and cofounder. Likewise, he predicts major employers in several industries will follow Deloitte’s lead, likely in cybersecurity, IT, and K-12 education, as well as other accounting and finance firms.

A focus on careers is hardly new for Northeastern, a pioneer in cooperative education. But Jona hopes the sponsored degree model provides a template for helping more underserved students make the transition to a job.

The Kicker: “For many, many years it’s been a four-years-and-throw-them-over-the-wall model,” he says.

On-Ramp Recruitment

When Connor Diemand-Yauman and Rebecca Taber Staehelin started Merit America, a tech on-ramp, four years ago, they kept hearing about organizations that hit a wall because of challenges with recruitment.

“We thought, ‘There are tons of learners out there. How is that possible?” says Taber Staehelin.

The nonprofit had no problem filling its first few cohorts. Then it hit the same barrier. Not enough learners were finding Merit America through search, first-wave social media, or referrals.

Diemand-Yauman began focusing on putting real strategy and muscle behind recruitment. The organization now has a paid acquisition strategy and works with gig employers like DoorDash to push out messaging. It also has gotten savvy about using TikTok, regularly publishing content from its learners on the platform.

Thus far, the recruitment approach is working. Merit America trained about 1,250 learners last year, and the founders say it currently has a waitlist. They also say outcomes have stayed strong as the number of learners has grown. Merit America recently commissioned the Nudge Solutions Lab at the University of Virginia to examine job placement and wage gains. The researchers found that:

  • Of the 1,200-plus learners the group served between December 2018 and September 2021, about 84 percent graduated.
  • Pre-program and post-program wages could be determined for about 700 of those learners. Among them, roughly 77 percent saw a positive wage gain. The percentages were higher for people who were further removed from graduation.
  • The average annual wage gain was just under $16K, moving people from about $28K a year to more than $43K.

The next year will be another big test as Merit America looks to at least double the number of participants it trains.

People will be watching. The group is one of two training partners in Google’s new Career Certificates Fund, which aims to help 20K Americans over the next 10 years get training they need to move into high-demand tech jobs. One of the program’s big question marks is how quickly the training partners can ramp up.

Merit America says it plans to have educated 10K learners—half the fund’s total target—by the end of 2024. They’re bullish but acknowledge that kind of growth might not come easy. 

“Every six months or so, we essentially become a new organization,” Diemand-Yauman says. “And it’s hard to foresee what those barriers to scale will be until you are that new entity.”

Year Up, the new Google fund’s other training partner, plans to ramp up more slowly.

The nonprofit’s programs all previously have been free to participants. And it doesn’t have familiarity with the kind of performance-based loan the fund will use. Students will be expected to pay back the cost of the program over a period of about five years once their income hits at least $40k a year. (Merit America currently uses a no-interest, fixed-payment loan approach for its various programs, which is similar to the Google fund loan.)

Year Up, which was founded in 2000, will educate about 4,800 learners through its various programs this year, with plans to grow to 7,000 next year. About 70 percent of learners come to the program through referrals.

Despite big plans for growth, Year Up only anticipates serving hundreds, not thousands, of students through the Google fund in the next few years. A loan, even one with a small, fixed cost, won’t be right for all its learners, the organization’s leaders say.

“We’re still in the very early stages of understanding how this kind of mechanism is perceived by the folks we serve,” says Emily Schaffer, Year Up’s managing director of technology. “And we have a lot to learn about how we make the right match.”

Year Up also plans to work with corporate partners over the next few years to see how they could make the approach an even better deal for students, perhaps by offsetting the loan through employee benefits that will cover repayments once they’re hired.

“I imagine this program will evolve significantly over the next few years,” Schaffer says.Elyse Ashburn

Open Tabs

Outcomes Regulation

A federal gainful employment rule that compares college program graduates’ earnings to other metrics, such as tuition prices, could provide greater protections than the proposed debt-to-earnings test, Jason Delisle and Jason Cohn write in a post for the Urban Institute. They argue that using debt as a key component of the rule forces policymakers to make trade-offs that compromise its effectiveness. 

Learner Records

SmartResume from iDatafy and GreenLight Credentials were the two U.S. entrants featured in a new market scan by JFF Labs that identified promising versions of digital wallets for verified credentials. “We believe the products we feature are beginning to show the potential to benefit employers and the regional economies where they are being used,” the report said.

Walmart has contributed $1.7M to the Western Governors University-led Open Skills Network and to the Indiana Achievement Wallet, a pilot project for that initiative, speakers said this week at the ASU+GSV summit. The network seeks to promote a more equitable, skills-driven labor market that matches learners and workers with education and career opportunities.

Short-Term Training

The Technical College System of Georgia is developing a “bootcamp approach” to training for in-demand jobs, where students would attend the certificate programs full-time for up to eight weeks, reports Patty Rasmussen of GeorgiaTrend. The 22-campus system has had success with Georgia’s HOPE Career Grants, which cover tuition for qualified students for certificate programs in high-demand industries.

Tuition Benefits

EdAssist by Bright Horizons, which oversees $1B of education benefits for 250 companies and organizations, will now offer online university content from Noodle, an online program management company. Roughly 40 percent of workers expect their employers to offer free college as part of an education benefit, the company found in a survey of 2K U.S. workers.

Tracking Skills

Instead of mapping job skills across an entire organization or business unit, companies should focus on the most in-demand roles then develop a handful of paths that connect to them, Matthew J. Daniel, principal consultant with Guild Education, writes in Chief Learning Officer. With this approach, companies can create paths to jobs that will endure and cultivate a longer-lasting talent pipeline.

Who else heard the term “flywheel” a lot at ASU+GSV? It was great to see many of you in San Diego. Thanks for reading.—@paulfain

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