Springboard’s bootcamps feature project-based learning and personal mentors. Also, an analysis finds that few for-profit programs would clear the Workforce Pell wage test from House Republicans. And an OPM says employers want more nondegree credentials, including customized certificates.

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Industry Ties

The line between coding bootcamps and tech apprenticeships is getting blurry, as pioneers in the bootcamp industry and rapidly growing upstarts offer experiential learning and paid work experience.

Springboard is a traditional bootcamp provider with tuition-paying students. But the San Francisco-based company also features an unusual dose of work-based experiences to help students prepare for jobs in tech.

The fully online learning tracks are heavy on coaching and offer students one-to-one industry mentors. Students also can get help from career coaches throughout the program and for six months after they complete.

All of Springboard’s mentors work either at a technology firm or a company that does tech, and they must have three years of experience. The company accepts just one in 10 applicants to be mentors and screens them for expertise, curiosity, adaptability, resilience, and likability.

Mentors help guide students through the curriculum and familiarize them with industry tools, says Sanam Raza, Springboard’s vice president and general manager of university partnerships.

“They help students plan, create, and structure portfolio projects via regular feedback,” she says. “And they provide industry guidance and an insider’s perspective of the work in the industry.”

Like many bootcamps, Springboard’s approach has evolved since it was founded in 2013 as a search engine for learning material on data science. But the company has had a consistent focus on tapping Silicon Valley expertise to fill learning gaps, working backward from jobs.

Here’s how it works:

  • Most programs take six months to complete, with courses in data, design, coding, cybersecurity, and tech sales.
  • Tuition prices for the UI/UX design bootcamp, for example, range from a low of $11,900 for up-front payment to up to $16,200 for monthly payments, deferred tuition, or a private loan.
  • Students spend 65% of their time on hands-on projects and complete a capstone project, live learning assessment, or externship.

Springboard has been ramping up its experiential learning options. It recently teamed up with Riipen, a work-based learning company, to offer students in the UI/UX program more real-life employer projects. That course, which takes nine months to finish, includes a required four-week industry design project, where students collaborate with industry clients.

“It is an externship where students are paired with real companies, typically startups, and execute actual projects for the business,” says Raza.

University Partners: In recent years, Springboard has enlisted university partners, including the University of Maryland Global Campus, LSU Online, UMass Global, and Gonzaga University. It offers turnkey, white-labeled tech training through those partnerships. The company also is an education provider for Amazon’s Career Choice program.

Fully half of the students who enroll in Springboard’s university partnerships do not hold college degrees — a large share for a bootcamp. Raza says more than 1,600 students have graduated or are currently enrolled in Springboard’s university partner and Amazon Career Choice programs, with a growing share from diverse backgrounds.

“Graduates have landed jobs with employers like Accenture, Bank of America, FedEx, Cisco, Deloitte, JP Morgan Chase & Co., and more,” Raza says.

High Bar for Short-Term Programs

The key stumbling block for any congressional bill to open up Pell Grants to short-term programs is the eligibility of for-profit colleges. And that impasse is showing signs of easing.

A top House Democrat’s new proposal would open the door to some for-profits. (Language of the bill from Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, is available here.)

Meanwhile, a new analysis from the Urban Institute finds that the wage-test “guardrail” in the latest Workforce Pell proposal from House Republicans sets a relatively high bar for eligibility, particularly for the for-profit sector.

To qualify for the grants, programs would need to charge no more in tuition and fees than their economic value — measured as the amount by which the median earnings of graduates three years after completion exceed 150% of the federal poverty level.

Just 8% of vocational certificate programs at for-profit institutions would be able to pass the test, according to the analysis by Jason Cohn, a research analyst in the Urban Institute’s Center on Education Data and Policy.

Cohn looked at tuition and earnings data on undergraduate vocational certificate programs. Most are longer than 15 weeks. But he says these are the shortest programs with available data and that they offer a “reasonable proxy” for short-term programs included in the Republican proposal.

The analysis finds that:

  • Overall, 79% of vocational certificates would not clear the threshold.
  • 81% of programs at public institutions would pass.
  • For-profits drive the overall results because they offer 80% of the programs in the analysis.

The average total tuition of short-term programs at public institutions (mostly community colleges) is $7K, Cohn finds, compared to $13K at for-profits. But that gap only partially accounts for the difference in failing rates, because graduate earnings for short-term programs at publics ($34K) were much higher than at for-profits ($22K).

Occupation is a big driver of those results, however. For-profits offer most of the short-term certificates for fields with the highest failure rates — cosmetology (99%) and allied health and medical assisting (88%). In contrast, two-thirds of practical and vocational nursing programs would clear the bar. Most of those programs are offered by community colleges.

The analysis found a big gender gap, one that is only somewhat driven by occupational segregation. Among women who completed vocational certificates, 88% were enrolled in programs that would fail the economic value test, compared to 57% of men.

The Republican proposal would allow relatively few students to access Workforce Pell grants, Cohn concludes, while limiting access more for women than men. He writes that a more accurate test for financial value would be an economic mobility measure that compares the pre-enrollment and postgraduation wages of students.

The Kicker: “Under a mobility measure, programs would be evaluated based on how much they improve their own students’ earnings,” Cohn says, “which would also reduce the effect of labor market discrimination and pay inequality.”

Demand for Nondegree Credentials

Whether the market for online, nondegree credentials will live up to the hype remains an open question. A recent report from Eduventures on this emerging space found sustained losses, high marketing costs, and competition challenges for a handful of online program management (OPM) companies and other online enablers.

AllCampus, however, has seen a spike in demand for microcredentials — even though its bread-and-butter product remains graduate degrees. The Chicago-based OPM works with 10 or so selective universities, including Boston University, the University of Florida, George Washington University, and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

AllCampus partners with roughly 30 employers, which get preferred tuition rates for their employees. It also has ties with a broader network of 4K companies, stretching across six industries and employing 20M workers.

“In nearly every conversation we have with employers, they ask about certificate programs or shorter-form skill programs,” says Jeremy Walsh, the company’s executive vice president of corporate partnerships.

Companies in some cases are responding to demand from employees, he says, and are trying to offer a broad range of certificates and courses to help workers quickly gain skills. Others are very specific about the type of credentials, skills, or certificates they want for their workforce.

“Some employers are focused on providing a broad education benefit that provides access to high-quality higher education,” Walsh says. “Other organizations are focused on opportunities to fortify their talent strategy.”

Not surprisingly, a common goal for companies that work with AllCampus is attracting, developing, and retaining workers, as well as diversifying their workforce. For those that are focused on upskilling employees, Walsh says the OPM starts with trying to understand a company’s specific needs and then works backward to find the right online education program.

Sometimes this can mean helping universities to unbundle pieces of their course content and then repackaging that material to create online certificates that employers want for high-demand roles, like paralegals or project managers. The company also helps universities find the right fit by conducting market analyses on potential student and labor market demand.

“We do this at a national, regional, state, and even metropolitan statistical area level to ensure completers of these programs will find jobs that require these skills,” says Walsh. “We also assess the competitive landscape — what other institutions or organizations offer these credentials — to ensure the market isn’t oversaturated.”

Open Tabs

College Enrollments
Overall undergraduate college enrollment was flat this spring (+0.2%) after two years of deep declines, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The community college sector was up 2.1%, largely due to dually enrolled students and first-year students. Multiyear losses in older students continued, while enrollment in undergraduate certificate programs grew 5.5%.

Income Inequality
A new research initiative from the U.S. Department of Commerce on regional economies follows its recent findings on geographic income inequality reaching new highs, with opportunity increasingly concentrated on the coasts and in cities. The initiative seeks to help public and private investors understand what kind of projects will spur job growth in overlooked areas and to maximize the regional investments in federal legislation like the CHIPS Act and the American Rescue Plan.

Complement to Degrees
Microcredentials are a powerful tool for community colleges to quickly grow the skilled workforce — and are a complement to degrees, Mordecai I. Brownlee, president of Community College of Aurora, writes in EdSurge. Aurora worked with the Education Design Lab and local industry partners to design five pathways in behavioral health to address Colorado’s mental health workforce shortage.

Teacher Training
A new transfer agreement between Reach University and College of the Siskiyous, a community college located in California, will provide all Siskiyous graduates a job-embedded and paid path to a bachelor’s degree. Transfer students will work as employees in a Siskiyou County school while completing a liberal studies degree from Reach, a recently created, regionally accredited nonprofit university focused on teachers’ aides.

Apprenticeship and College
Instead of seeing apprenticeships as an alternative to college, a youth apprenticeship can help high school students make more informed college choices. That was a takeaway from a recent panel hosted by Brookings Metro and Ascend Indiana, which featured three youth apprentices who plan to attend college. The students said many of their peers would be interested in apprenticeships if they knew about them.

Preparing Employees
“He seems to really miss a lot of what the purpose behind an education is supposed to do in terms of producing citizens who care about humanist principles and think about the cultivation of individuals as anything other than employees,” Danielle Scherer, the vice president of operations for the Temple Association of University Professionals, said in a New York Times article about the abrupt resignation of Jason Wingard, Temple University’s president.

I’m out next week and am planning to hold off on the newsletter. So I’ll be back in your inbox on April 13. Until then, thanks for reading.

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— Paul Fain

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