Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Graduates of the Marcy Lab School make six figures. But the coding school and college alternative is staying focused on NYC. Also, survey data from Coursera on the labor market value of professional certificates.

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

College Alternatives

The Marcy Lab School may be the nation’s only legit alternative to a traditional four-year college.

Located in Brooklyn, the school offers a one-year, full-time fellowship in software engineering to recent high school graduates. It combines a liberal arts curriculum with the hands-on tech training of a bootcamp, with students reading books about race and politics while they develop skills in web development and data structures.

“We are on a mission to expand the market share of job opportunities for highly talented software engineers of color who do not possess a degree from a four-year college,” says Reuben Ogbonna, Marcy Lab’s co-founder and executive director.

Students pay nothing to attend the school, which taps philanthropic support to cover its cost of instruction. Marcy Lab also provides coaching, mentoring, and job placement assistance with its employer partners. That support pays off for the school’s graduates—last year’s class landed software engineering jobs with an average wage of $106K.

Companies that hire Marcy Lab grads, including Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase, are making a cost-effective decision, says Ogbonna. 

“Hiring a skilled Marcy Lab Fellow leads to higher job retention,” he says. “And our students are performing at the same level, if not higher, than those from traditional colleges.”

Despite its impressive results, Marcy Lab is a very small and young experiment. Founded in 2019, the school graduated 30 students last year. It features a student-to-instructor ratio of just 12 to one, which Ogbonna says Marcy Lab must hold steady for students to feel valued and supported.

Competition or Collaboration: While some homegrown bootcamps appear to have figured out how to replicate their model in different markets, Marcy Lab has turned down opportunities to try its approach in another city. A franchise play wouldn’t allow the school to refine its depth, says Ogbonna, or to broaden its job market share in NYC.

So for now, Marcy Lab is plenty busy focusing on the Big Apple. Success in the next decade, Ogbonna says, would be to function like a small college in NYC that enrolls roughly 1K to 2K students each year.

That doesn’t mean Marcy Lab is content with its current success. Like the Turing School, a coding school in Colorado that recently secured national accreditation, Ogbonna says Marcy Lab is interested in being able to access federal aid to continue to invest in the types of students it serves.

Likewise, he says the best bet for nationwide scale is collaboration between like-minded providers, such as the Turing School and Building 21, and making it easier for organizations to create the next Marcy Lab in their community.

The Kicker: “As this ecosystem continues to grow across the country, real value will come from the sharing of tangible resources, such as formal networks of employers who hire and champion talent from nontraditional pathways, shared curriculums, and federal funding through accreditation,” says Ogbonna.

Click over to Work Shift to read the full Q&A with Ogbonna.

Work Shift: A true alternative to a four-year college? The Marcy Lab School in New York City aims to offer a traditional college experience in one year. We talked with co-founder Reuben Ogbonna about experimentation, growth, and student choice.

Struggling to hire the right talent and meet your diversity goals? Download Tear the Paper Ceiling Hiring Playbook for Employers, a practical guide to help talent leaders shift to skills-based hiring and discover the promise of STARs—workers Skilled Through Alternative Routes—to meet their company’s needs. (Sponsor message from Opportunity@Work)

Big Tech Certs in Hiring

Coursera recently made it easier for partner universities to offer roughly 20 entry-level certificates from Google, Salesforce, Meta, IBM, and Intuit. More than half of the short-term online programs lead to college credit recommendations from the American Council on Education.

These microcredentials come in different flavors. Some offer instruction on and around the companies’ tools—the Salesforce sales operations certificate and Meta’s social media marketing certificate, for example—likely with a partial goal of expanding the market share of those products. Others, including certs from Google, are more about broader career training in fields like IT support.

All the professional certificates through Coursera are designed to be completed in six to eight months and can be used as an on-ramp to a degree completion program or as an add-on to a degree. The University of North Texas recently joined the University of London in offering credits toward a bachelor’s degree for completers of professional certificates offered on Coursera’s platform—four from Google and one from Meta.

At a recent event in New York, Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda said that although the company was built on the idea of opening up education to people who weren’t enrolled in formal programs, over the years it has seen the enduring pull of colleges.

Learners may not know where to start if they come straight to Coursera, he said, whereas colleges or workforce development offices can act as guides. “There’s something really important about institutions,” he says.

To get a sense of how professional certificates are viewed and being used, Coursera this week released the results of an August survey of 1,200 employers and 2,400 students and recent graduates across the U.S. and seven other countries. 

Students reported positive vibes about the credentials:

  • Overall, 89% of respondents felt that earning a professional certificate will help them stand out to employers and get a job after graduation.
  • An average of 75% said embedding the certificates in an academic program makes them more likely to enroll in it, with a high of 82% of student respondents from India and Mexico and a low of 69% of French and German students.

Among employers, an average of 76% of respondents said they were more likely to hire a candidate who has earned one of the credentials for an entry-level role, with 92% saying a professional certificate strengthens a candidate’s application.

Work Shift: New pathways in tech The fast-moving world of education and training for tech careers—from evolving degree programs to fast-growing apprenticeships. We look at what’s happening, who’s paying, and who benefits.

Open Tabs

Enrollment Crisis

Getting a return on their investment matters more than affordability for young adults without college degrees as they consider barriers to enrolling in postsecondary education, according to the results of focus groups and a survey conducted by Edge Research and HCM Strategists. The survey found that 62% of respondents agreed they would be willing to take on student debt if they were guaranteed a good job after graduation.

Outcomes Funding

A Texas commission will recommend sweeping changes to community college funding—increasing support and student aid while tying most funding to workforce-oriented student outcomes, according to a near-final draft of the recommendations. Funds would be linked to student completion of “credentials of value,” including those awarded in high-demand fields, and for student transfers to four-year universities.

Short-Term Programs

The federal budget for short-term job training programs should be doubled, and similar grants from the Departments of Education and Labor should be connected, writes New America’s Kevin Carey for Slate. But programs should only be eligible for that aid if they meet rigorous standards of quality, he writes, and have a demonstrated track record of producing graduates who land well-paying jobs with good wages and benefits in their field.

Teacher Apprenticeships

The U.S. Department of Education announced $60M in new grants to strengthen the K-12 teacher pipeline. Reach University, an upstart nonprofit that offers “job-embedded” bachelor’s degrees to school staff members, is the lead partner for a $6.9M grant in Louisiana that includes data collection on the value of degree-based apprenticeships. The department previously selected the university for an $8.7M grant in Arkansas.

Debt Cancellation

The Biden administration’s student debt forgiveness policy will spend roughly the same amount per borrower on Pell Grant recipients as on other borrowers, according to an analysis by Adam Looney for the Brookings Institution. Most Black (89%) and Hispanic (84%) borrowers received Pell Grants, as did 79% of college dropouts. “If the goal was to help these specific groups, why not spend all the money on them?” Looney asks.

Career Navigation

The career-planning process is confusing and chaotic, and services that help students and job seekers navigate the labor market are not equitably distributed, argues a new report from JFF. Governments should invest more in career navigation, including the creation of a diverse pool of counselors, according to the report, which calls for deeper employer involvement in creating good information about labor market demand.

It’s been a busy stretch, and I’ve been pulled away from reporting most of the last few weeks. Please send tips my way. And am I missing other alternatives to four-year college? —@paulfain

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