Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Tech training bootcamps from the University of Montana and Tulsa Community College tap outside funding to be tuition-free. Also, a deep dive on two-year colleges as community hubs, and a take on the crucial role of a trusted intermediary in local workforce development.

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

Free Bootcamps

For short-term credentials to have the best chance of paying off for students, an emerging view holds that they need to be heavily subsidized—ideally free, with funding from employers or foundations if government support isn’t there—while offering connections to actual living-wage jobs.

The University of Montana is among a growing number of public institutions that have developed bootcamp-style training to help people break into the local tech sector. The flagship university’s president, Seth Bodnar, is bullish on the potential for microcredentials to open doors for both working learners and traditional college students.

Montana’s 12-week bootcamp serves both purposes. It’s offered through a ramped-up collaboration between the university and the Advanced Technology Group, a Cognizant subsidiary and business consulting firm focused on commerce and billing technology. With an office in Missoula, ATG is one of the region’s largest private employers.

The company and the university jointly developed the online bootcamp’s Salesforce training curriculum. With a 30-hour-per-week time commitment, the Aim Higher Program is designed for students to gain skills in system analysis, data analytics, project management, and information infrastructure, and to get experience in cloud and IT basics within the Salesforce platform.

ATG fully funds the noncredit program, which is offered for free to students, who are paid for their time. Students are consultant trainees. At completion, they earn a Salesforce credential and get a guaranteed job interview for roles with the company in Montana and beyond.

Seven cohorts of students have graduated in the three years since the program was launched, the university says, leading to the direct hire of 224 of its alumni in high-paying tech jobs with ATG in western Montana.

Participating students include recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees, midcareer professionals looking to make a switch, and entry-level workers seeking to move from administrative to IT jobs. Likewise, a substantial number of students have enrolled in the program after earning an associate degree from Missoula College.

Bodnar says the short-term training has helped baristas, nurses, comedians, ski instructors, former engineers, and even a former weatherman launch rewarding tech careers. Citing the university’s commitment to “inclusive prosperity,” he calls the bootcamp a win for its graduates, the private sector, and the region’s economic health.  

The Kicker: “This program not only creates economic mobility for the participants, but also provides our growing tech sector with in-demand talent,” Bodnar says.

Work Shift: The workforce is changing. Can community colleges change with it?
Work Shift: The workforce is changing. Can community colleges change with it? Advocates and researchers in education are asking if two-year institutions can transform to reach a fuller potential—serving as community hubs for social and economic mobility.

Tech Training in Tulsa

In the above piece for Work Shift, Lilah Burke explores whether two-year colleges could transform into community hubs for economic and social mobility. Experts say such a shift would require colleges to take a more active role in bringing career-aligned education to working learners, including short-term credentials developed with industry.

A new program from Tulsa Community College is an example of how some two-year colleges are moving this way.

The college this month rolled out a no-cost tech bootcamp—one featuring free wraparound supports for students as well as transferable college credits.

The new Cyber Skills Center plans to enroll two initial cohorts of 20 students each this fall in fully online, 24-week tracks in cybersecurity and data analytics. The center has funding to quadruple those numbers next year, to serve a total of 200 Tulsans over two years in the tuition-free program, which will focus on helping more women, people of color, and lower-income workers land jobs in tech-led, automation-resistant sectors.

The new bootcamp is the first partnership between a community college and edX, the online learning platform 2U purchased last year. It’s also the latest addition to a social impact project from edX that seeks to create affordable tech training options by connecting colleges and universities to local workforce agencies and funding partners.

The Tulsa Innovation Labs is the public-private convener for the program. Its research has found potential for Tulsa to become a tech hub. And 2U cites data from Lightcast showing that Tulsa-area employers have posted over 4,800 data analytics and 3,100 cybersecurity jobs in the past six months. 

Conor Godfrey, TIL’s cyber and analytics manager, says the partnership with edX is part of his group’s work to make the metro area more vibrant, inclusive, and future-forward.

“Given Tulsa’s rich but challenging history, there’s been a lot of soul-searching in terms of what the city’s economic identity should be for the next hundred years, and who has a right to tell that story,” he says.

Paying for Success: TIL is a subsidiary of the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is funding the Cyber Skills Center so students can attend the 24-week program for free.

The center also will feature a wide range of supports, provided by more than 30 community partners, including required equipment, childcare, transportation, and help with career readiness. Students in the program will have free access to services from Retrain Tulsa, a nonprofit offering career coaching and job placement. 

Students who complete the two IT programs can receive credits that count toward a degree from Tulsa Community College or one of its regional university transfer partners, including the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University. That sort of legit stackability remains rare for alternative credential programs.

Some graduates also will be able to enroll in an apprenticeship through SkillStorm, a Florida-based tech talent firm. After completing an additional 10 weeks of training, those apprentices will receive a paid remote-work contract from a major national employer in cybersecurity or data analytics.

While Tulsa Community College is using philanthropic support to kick-start the free bootcamp, the longer-term plan is for employers to invest in the program as a talent pipeline.

Godfrey was optimistic about that scenario, noting that Tulsa has a “social impact–focused corporate community with an eye for that double bottom line.”

Trusted Regional Intermediary

Growing Fairly, a book published earlier this year by the Brookings Institution Press, makes a case for a more equitable and effective approach to workforce development.

Stephen Goldsmith, a professor of practice at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is the book’s co-author. A former mayor of Indianapolis and deputy mayor of New York City, Goldsmith discussed the book this week during an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.

“You need to have an activator,” he said, pointing to the key role of what he calls a “network manager” in the book—an organization that can pull together necessary coalitions of employers, colleges, governments, and nonprofit groups. As examples, the book points to the San Diego Workforce Partnership and Upskill Houston. The Tulsa Innovation Labs also may fit the bill.

With 11M open jobs and millions of lower-income workers who need better jobs, Goldsmith says the country is facing an “extraordinarily important moment” for its workforce systems.

More from Work Shift

Researchers take a hard look at whether financial aid reduces—or perpetuates—inequality
Researchers take a hard look at whether financial aid reduces—or perpetuates—inequality A handful of high-profile researchers and commentators this week put the U.S. financial aid system under the microscope. 

Open Tabs

Economic Mobility

Adult learners who return to higher education are 22% more likely to achieve upward mobility and have larger salary increases than their peers who don’t go back to college, according to a new analysis from Lightcast, the former Emsi Burning Glass. Associate degrees in engineering, healthcare, and other technical fields were linked with more upward mobility than bachelor’s degrees in fields such as business or psychology.

Third Way has updated its Economic Mobility Index, adding an interactive map, a tiered system for ranked institutions, and the amount of federal financial aid colleges receive each year. The index is based on a price–to–earnings premium calculation, and ratings are weighted by the proportion of Pell Grant recipients institutions enroll. It has been a high-profile addition to the ROI discussion.

Value Proposition

Almost two-thirds of Americans believe people can get well-paying, stable jobs with just a high school diploma or GED, according to New America’s sixth annual survey of views on higher education. However, the majority of respondents said they see value in a postsecondary education—saying that it is easier to find consistent employment with degrees or technical certifications.

Career Development

A lack of career development and advancement was the top reason workers said they quit their last job, with 41% of respondents citing it, according to the results of a global workforce survey by McKinsey. Fully 40% of workers said they might leave their jobs in the near future. And McKinsey found that the majority of people who quit their jobs in the last two years are not returning to the industries they left.


Coursera reported a 12% increase during the second quarter (compared to last year) for its consumer segment, which brought in nearly $70M and includes professional certificates from Big Tech companies. But the online platform’s share price was down due to lower-than-expected revenue growth of 22%. Its degree business was down 4% due to disappointing enrollments, particularly in “mature” U.S. and European programs.

Skills-Based Hiring

Most employers (62%) require college degrees for entry-level jobs, according to a survey by the Cengage Group of hiring managers. Yet respondents ranked skills-training credentials (43%) and real-world experience (28%) as more important than a degree when considering an entry-level candidate. Almost half (47%) said it’s difficult to measure the meaningfulness of certifications and credentials in their line of work.

The Autodesk Foundation, LinkedIn, and Workday are working together through a coalition, the Just Transition Collaborative, which is seeking to encourage equitable pathways into green jobs by increasing the use of skills-based hiring. The effort is facilitated by NationSwell, a social impact company. It focuses on middle-skill jobs in regions most affected by the shift from fossil fuels to sustainable industries.

I’ve been meaning to write about Salary Transparent Street, a viral TikTok series asking people how much they make, where they went to school, and for their career tips. But I keep running out of space. The short interviews are fascinating. —@paulfain

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