Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Julia Freeland Fisher weighs in on what social capital theory’s moment means for students and colleges, while several groups have success helping students build networks to land jobs. Also, more on the regulatory environment for ISAs and new data on the boom for youth apprenticeships.

The Job
Sign up for the newsletter

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

Leaving Connections to Chance

Social capital theory is having a moment, with new data and growing awareness about its importance for students as they make the jump from college to career.

As a result, several intermediary groups that focus on helping college students and working adults build networks are expanding their models amid growing interest, including from colleges and employers.

Julia Freeland Fisher wrote the book on social capital’s role in patterns of inequality in education. Four years after the publication of Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks, Fisher shares her take on whether campus connections can drive economic mobility.

“Opportunity is not just a function of skills and education, but also increasingly depends on social connection. A well-resourced network can open doors,” Fisher, director of education at the Christensen Institute, writes in Work Shift.

However, a big question is whether simply attending college is an automatic ticket to a stronger network. And are low-income students enjoying equal access?

Probably not, Fisher says, as data suggest that inequalities lurk behind averages. And networking opportunities diverge for students who attend residential colleges (fewer than 16% of undergraduates live on campus) versus those who commute or attend online. Yet colleges tend to lack commitment and a coherent approach to organizing peers and alumni to help students land jobs, instead leaving connections to chance.

“For access to credentials to yield better labor market returns, schools need to adopt deliberate strategies that generate economic connectedness for students that matriculate on the wrong side of opportunity gaps,” Fisher writes.

Click over to Work Shift to read the full piece.

Can campus connections drive economic mobility? Yes, but not with the ‘same old’ approach
Can campus connections drive economic mobility? Yes, but not with the ‘same old’ approach Going to college isn’t an automatic ticket to a stronger network, writes Julia Freeland Fisher, author of Who You Know. Institutions have to design for it.

Groups Seek to Build Networks

Fisher writes about COOP, a nonprofit that seeks to help underemployed, low-income, and first-generation college graduates break into tech jobs. Many of the graduates COOP works with attended commuter campuses and spent little time building a network in college. Incoming participants often work multiple part-time jobs and earn an average of $22K per year.

“The biggest thing that struck me about underemployment is just how isolated graduates are in that experience,” Kalani Leifer, the organization’s founder and CEO, told Fisher. “They’re navigating it alone and are coming to the conclusion that there’s something defective about them.”

COOP connects its participants to full-time, salaried positions in the digital economy. Leifer says the focus is on “coding-adjacent” careers like digital marketing, data analytics, and tech sales.

“Roles in these industries are abundant, upwardly mobile, and mostly don’t require thousands of hours of additional retraining, like a programming bootcamp might,” Leifer says.

Since its creation eight years ago, Leifer says, COOP’s intervention has led to wage gains for thousands of former Pell Grant recipients in New York, California, and Illinois. Within a year of completing the program, four out of five COOP alumni are fully employed. Their average annual wage is $50K in the first year, $62K in the third, and $75K in the fifth.

COOP’s flagship offering, a digital apprenticeship, features 16-member cohorts with near-peer coaches who have completed the program and secured full-time jobs.

Cohorts of peers can help each other in the job search process, says Fisher, sharing intel and tips. And near peers are “credible messengers” with real-time knowledge and connections for breaking into jobs.

Climb Hire also features a heavy focus on peer mentorship and alumni who “pay it forward.” Founded in 2019, the company prepares working adults for entry-level jobs in tech. The average annual income for incoming participants is $24K. Fully 80% of its job-seeking students land new roles within six months, with an average wage of $66K after they complete.

Early on, 95% of those jobs came from Climb Hire’s work with corporate recruiters, says Nitzan Pelman, the organization’s CEO and founder. Now 20 to 30% of jobs are coming from networks students form with alumni and each other. That share is on the rise, she says, and hopefully will hit 50% in the coming years.

To get there, however, Pelman says Climb Hire can’t be passive about its connections with alumni.

The Kicker: “It doesn’t just happen organically. You have to water it. You have to invest in it,” says Pelman. “Social capital has so many layers.”

Partnering with Colleges: I’ll write more next week about Climb Hire and COOP. Both feature approaches that could apply to traditional higher ed. And COOP is seeking to deepen its partnerships with colleges.

The goal, Leifer says, is to “create a replicable, low-cost, social capital–focused program that integrates seamlessly and ensures their grads achieve upward mobility.”

Braven includes a focus on social capital in its work with students who attend four-year universities. The nonprofit, which helps lower-income and underrepresented college students transition to the workforce, just announced new partnerships with Northern Illinois University and the City University of New York.

As with its previous university collaborations, including the relatively recent partnership with Spelman College, Braven is seeking to work with substantial numbers of students at NIU (1K annually by the third year) and CUNY (3,750 over five years).

A new report from the Chicago-based group shows that its fellows have a 90% on-time graduation rate. Among the 680 Braven fellows who graduated last year, 61% landed jobs the group defines as quality roles, with another 23% in “pathway” roles that likely will lead to more career-accelerating opportunities.

During the last academic year, Braven’s fellows saw a 43% bump in their belief that they can successfully develop and use social networks.

From Work Shift

Youth apprenticeships doubled over a decade—with uneven rewards
Youth apprenticeships doubled over a decade—with uneven rewards Women still dramatically lag in participation, and women and Black youth get less of a wage boost.

With $40M grant, ‘American manufacturing will be reborn in El Paso’
With $40M grant, ‘American manufacturing will be reborn in El Paso’ The project is part of a billion-dollar national effort to grow local economic hubs and create good jobs in places other than the urban superstars.

Regulatory Clarity for ISAs?

Better Future Forward, a nonprofit income-share agreement provider, this month announced that it had finalized a compliance plan with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Last year, the CFPB said Better Future Forward falsely represented that its ISAs were not loans and required the group to provide disclosures that comply with federal consumer financial law.

The CFPB’s action was a significant development in the mounting regulatory pressure ISAs face. Some observers think the compliance plan the federal agency agreed to with Better Future Forward could add needed regulatory clarity for other ISA providers.

Although the CFPB did not object to the revised disclosures, they aren’t models for other ISAs or official rule making by the agency, cautions Kevin James, Better Future Forward’s founder and CEO.

“Our hope, however, is that they can serve as a baseline for further work with state and federal regulators on a fair and complete set of disclosures for the unique features of income share agreements, within the framework set by the Truth in Lending Act,” says James, who authored a recent report on the role for ISAs in an equitable student finance system.

While the compliance plan offers a relatively narrow path forward for other ISA providers, which is more than the industry had before, it leaves plenty of questions unanswered. 

What Is BFF? The ISA provider isn’t representative of the industry. Despite the attention Better Future Forward has received, I’d read nothing about how the nonprofit’s financing actually works.

The organization offers its Opportunity ISA to prospective students in Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Milwaukee. It focuses on low-income students who attend public or nonprofit colleges but receive coaching and mentoring from nonprofit groups that work on college success.

These students tend to face substantial financial gaps, even after exhausting their aid and loans. The coaching organizations aren’t set up to fill those gaps, James says. That leaves conventional private loans, which require a cosigner, or Parent PLUS loans—both risky options. So many students work long hours to make ends meet, which makes it hard for them to graduate.

Students do not need a cosigner or credit score to get an ISA with Better Future Forward. They can use the funds to cover unpaid prior balances with their college. Students have no obligation to repay the money when their annual wages after college are below $42,500, adjusting for inflation. Payment amounts are linked to their income, up to a cap of $79,700. Their obligation also has a fixed end point after 20 years, 120 payments, or until they pay what they would have on a loan at a 7.5% rate.

Since 2017, James says, Better Future Forward has provided more than 200 students with $2M in financing. “We are proud of our students’ accomplishments and honored to play a role in 85% of BFF students having persisted in or graduated from their four-year degree programs of choice,” he says.

Open Tabs

Short-Term Pell

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx described the GOP’s proposal for “workforce” Pell Grants as an “alternative to a baccalaureate degree” in a discussion hosted this week by the American Enterprise Institute. The North Carolina Republican said she hoped recipients of grants for short-term programs would become lifelong learners who later would pursue degrees.

Foxx envisioned a “vigorous higher ed bill next year.” And she said accountability and transparency about outcomes would be a focus for her party as it pursues reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. “We want workforce Pell, as well as every other program in postsecondary education, to prove its worth.”

Employee Benefits

Amazon will offer college education benefits to 172K employees of its delivery service partners. The new Next Mile program, which Amazon is offering with InStride, will provide up to $5,250 per year to eligible drivers for access to 1,700 academic programs, including degrees, certifications, and GEDs. Participants also can get help identifying education programs and career options based on their skills and interest.

Citi has expanded its education benefits for U.S. employees, now offering no-cost degrees from five partner universities through EdAssist by Bright Horizons, as well as tuition assistance for degrees and certificates. About 38K frontline employees will now be eligible for the bank’s expanded benefits, Jessica Dickler reports for CNBC. This year EdAssist has seen a 33% jump in companies offering free degree programs.

Digital Credentials

An effort to offer digital tech credentials at 20 universities across greater Washington, D.C., has struggled to attract participating students, Goldie Blumenstyk reports for The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Capital CoLAB’s goal is to “engage” 45K learners by 2025. But amid staff turnover, the pandemic, and reported lukewarm participation by employers, fewer than 600 students have earned CoLAB certificates.

Industrial Policy

The U.S. has a new industrial policy—and must make sure it benefits workers and communities across the country, not just superstar urban regions, Brookings Institute fellows Xavier de Souza Briggs and Mark Muro write in Fortune. They say the key is to spread out industrial investments and to ensure leaders focus on creating local linkages—building up supplier networks and developing the local workforce, not just importing talent.

Formerly Incarcerated

Slack and the Aspen Institute have published a playbook to help tech companies navigate the process for hiring and supporting people returning from incarceration. The guide is designed to help companies break down legal and HR hurdles. It draws from the work of Next Chapter, a nonprofit group that trains formerly incarcerated apprentices, which Slack incubated, Pavithra Mohan reports for Fast Company.

Paid Internships

Some community colleges struggle to provide students with equitable work-based learning opportunities, according to a new report by Mauriell Amechi, a senior policy analyst at New America’s Center on Education & Labor at New America. The report includes recommendations based on expert input and examples from work-based learning programs at five community colleges around the country.

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.