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

A healthcare company will help cover nursing degrees from Grand Valley State in exchange for a work commitment. Also, InStride’s take on boosting employee participation in tuition benefit programs, and ideas for accreditors on nondegree credentials. (Sign up here to get this newsletter.)

Work Commitments

The pandemic helped show that money is hardly the only reason why lower-income Americans pass up college. Many lack time to pursue a credential. And they want to have confidence that college will lead to a good job.

Employer-sponsored degrees could help more students decide college is worth the risk.

Shopify, for example, runs its own free computer science bachelor’s program, Dev Degree, in partnership with accredited institutions like Dominican University of California. Many graduates end up working for the company, although it’s not required.

And last week, Deloitte said it would cover tuition costs for community college students to earn online bachelor’s degrees from Arizona State and Northeastern Universities. In a twist on an income-share agreement, students must commit to work for Deloitte for two years in exchange for receiving that aid.

Experts said that model could be replicated. And this week Grand Valley State University announced a partnership with a nonprofit healthcare system that has similar contours, including a work commitment.

The BHSH System’s $19M in support for nursing students is an “all in” investment model for dealing with the urgent problem of nursing shortages in Michigan and beyond, says Philomena Mantella, Grand Valley State’s president:

“What is truly unique here is the expansion of a pipeline—the opportunity extended to people who want to be nurses and to whom we can provide the support, the infrastructure, the placements, and the opportunities for them to see that vision become a reality.”

Roughly half of the money from BHSH will be direct student aid. The rest will help the university expand its faculty ranks and cover other start-up costs, including clinical placements, simulations, and supports for students.

Beginning next year, the plan is to enroll 500 more students over the next six years in Grand Valley State’s bachelor’s of nursing program, which currently admits about 230 students per year. The funding will allow the university to admit students at a higher rate, says Mantella, including career switchers and students who already hold degrees.

The new scholarship aid will go toward the junior and senior years of nursing students, who pay roughly $15K in annual tuition fees. Qualifying students will receive $10K in support annually for up to two years. They will be required to commit to one year of work at the healthcare system for each year of aid they receive.

The details of that arrangement are still being worked out, Mantella said during a rollout event. But if graduates leave before their commitment expires, the grant aid would become a zero-interest loan.

Part of the partnership’s goal is to permanently increase student access to nursing education, says Tina Freese Decker, BHSH’s president and CEO, while also creating a model for others to emulate.

The Kicker: “We are addressing the financial barriers to college and smoothing the educational path to employment,” she says.

From Work Shift

Making Good on the American Promise for All
Making Good on the American Promise for All There are only some winners in today’s job market—and then everybody else, writes Aimée Eubanks Davis, CEO of Braven. To share prosperity equitably, we must invest in career development for more women, first-generation college goers, and students of color.

Tackling Teacher Shortages in Ohio
Tackling Teacher Shortages in Ohio Recruiting and retaining teachers has been a challenge for school districts across the country during the past two years. Ohio is offering grants to 30 institutions to help.

‘Double Bottom-Line Solution’

InStride is a major player in the booming employer education benefit space, joining other intermediaries that help administer these programs, including Guild Education and EdAssist by Bright Horizons.

The public benefit company was founded three years ago as a collaboration between the Rise Fund and Arizona State University, which made waves in 2014 with its exclusive education benefit partnership with Starbucks. InStride now manages that program, which has changed somewhat over the years.

More than 40 companies work with InStride on their tuition benefit programs. The platform has fewer university partners than its competitors and touts the academic quality of the seven universities that offer online degree programs to workers through their employer plans. In addition to ASU, InStride’s partners include the City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and universities based in Mexico and Australia.

Demand for more education and training from companies has remained strong throughout the pandemic, says Jonathan Lau, InStride’s cofounder and chief operating officer.

Learners need to acquire new skills and often lack access to affordable education, he says. At the same time, corporations need to find new ways to attract and retain workers. This is what Lau calls a “double bottom-line solution,” one that helps employers with both their business and social impact needs as they seek to create workforces of the future.

Yet uncertainty in labor markets is affecting the approach of both corporations and students with education benefits, Lau says:

“For learners, we continue to hear about mental wellness and higher worker stress. Fewer people in the workforce due to attrition or illness have created more work for those employees still in the workforce, which can make it more challenging to consider the additional responsibility of pursuing something new.”

Vivek Sharma, InStride’s CEO, wrote about workforce education in his recent book. He cited the importance of time as a factor as workers mull whether they can use a tuition benefit. 

To help make sure employees have time to earn credentials, Lau says InStride works with its corporate partners to:

  • Ensure executive support so managers can be supportive and flexible with employees who enroll.
  • Offer training to managers.
  • Provide updates to HR and managers about learner participation.
  • Offer a wide range of learning options.
  • Make part-time employees eligible for benefit programs.

Typically, a small share of employees tap their tuition benefits—estimates hover around 2 percent. But larger uptake rates are possible, Lau says, with participation approaching 20 percent of employees in some cases. This is most likely when employers align their programs to strategic business objectives.

“Everyone at the company should have the ability to pursue education,” Lau says. “Our goal should be to keep moving those numbers higher if there’s a strategic company need.” 

Company partners in manufacturing and healthcare tend to value industry-specific certifications with their tuition benefit programs, he says, sometimes even more than a traditional degree. And InStride works with companies to identify core areas of skill development so students can work toward degrees, certifications, and credentials that are the most beneficial to them.

“That said, we believe firmly in the transformative power of a degree,” Lau says.

College Learning, on the Job: A couple weeks ago, I asked for examples of companies that make time for their employees to work toward a college degree. Abigail Smith, a partner at Bain & Company, cited the apprenticeship program from Aon, a multinational professional services firm.

Aon’s ambitious two-year program offers apprentices the chance to earn a tuition-free associate degree. They are paid as full-time employees but spend a portion of each workweek in college classes. 

Likewise, Smith pointed to apprenticeships at SEH America, which produces silicon wafers used in semiconductors. A Bain paper described how the shifts of apprentices at an SEH manufacturing facility in Washington State are scheduled around the sponsored college courses they are taking.

“When we say ‘apprenticeship,’ people don’t generally think ‘college-level learning,’” Smith says. “But that is what apprenticeship, at its best, involves—work experience and college-level learning.”

Accreditors and Nondegree Credentials

The Higher Learning Commission is the largest of the nation’s seven regional accrediting agencies. This week HLC released two papers by experts it pulled together to examine how accreditors should handle the growing number of certificates, certifications, licenses, and badges.

While the larger credential marketplace can be a boon for consumers, it also is chaotic and confusing, according to one paper. Its authors argued that students and institutions would benefit from expanded and consistent quality standards for nondegree credentials.

The group of experts described options for HLC, including how the accreditor might recognize providers of short-term nondegree credentials or endorse specific categories of credentials offered by a provider. Additionally, HLC could offer evaluation services to accredited institutions so they could recognize credentials offered by a particular unaccredited provider.

The value of nondegree credentials is largely in the employer marketplace, the report said. To expand quality assurance to cover this space, its authors said accreditors would need to work closely with employers to understand both the quality and value of credentials.

“When employers default to degree requirements for job entry, it is because they know that degrees represent authenticated experience,” the report said. “If equivalent authentication were available for non-degree credentials—and perhaps included the added benefit of specifically identified skills and competencies—the value of the non-degree credential in the workplace would increase dramatically.”

Open Tabs

Hiring Projections

Employers plan to hire almost 32 percent more graduates from the class of 2022 than they did from last year’s class, according to a hiring survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Hiring expectations are strong across industries, with oil and gas extraction seeing the largest projected increase. Employers expect 42 percent of hires will be for in-person roles, with 40 percent being hybrid and 18 percent fully remote.

ROI Research

A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper reviews the literature on returns to different types of postsecondary education. The focus was on methods and identifying areas for future research. But in comparing existing research, it found that at the sub-baccalaureate level, the returns to particular fields vary widely based on the state being studied—even though the studies all used similar methods.

Industry Partnerships

The new Curriculum-to-Career Innovations Institute will seek to support colleges to more fully link college learning with workforce preparedness as well as to develop productive partnerships with industry. The American Association of Colleges and Universities and IBM will codirect the institute, which will emphasize design thinking, inclusive interdisciplinary perspectives, and systemic commitments to equity.

Career Events

Handshake has acquired Talentspace, a virtual and hybrid recruiting event platform based in Europe. A talent network that connects millions of college students with employers, Handshake last year hosted roughly 5K virtual career events. The company’s first acquisition will accelerate its expansion into Europe, it says, where education-to-employment resources and career services offices tend to be limited.

Occupational Licensing

When a profession is licensed, its relative share of workers declines by 27 percent, according to research by Peter Q. Blair, an economics professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Occupational licensing could result in labor shortages, he writes, or licensed professionals could take on more work. Blair calls for more licensing data and studies from other parts of the world.

Skilled Trades

Eighty-five percent of young people think that skilled trade work is a quality career option—but far fewer are serious about pursuing it, according to a survey by Stanley Black & Decker. Only 16 percent of young adults said they were very likely to consider such a career. Key factors included a misunderstanding of the financial payoff, incorrect knowledge of required skills, a lack of exposure, and a perception of the trades as male-dominated.

I’ll revisit ideas for consumer and taxpayer protections for short-term Pell Grants soon. Send your ideas my way? —@paulfain

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