Tulsa’s public schools partner with a nonprofit to offer paid corporate internships to high school students. Also, college ROI continues its moment, and Guild rebrands while doubling down on career advancement.

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

Internships in High School

Educators across K-12 and higher education are trying to reconnect with students who disengaged during the pandemic. Career exploration and experiential learning can be part of the solution, many experts say, particularly for low-income, underserved students.

The Tulsa Public Schools have been looking to offer students more meaningful work-based learning opportunities, in part to boost engagement, says Deborah Gist, superintendent of the city’s public schools.

“We are laser focused that our students are leaving our high schools fully equipped for life, whatever they choose to do,” she says.

The schools face a huge unmet need in helping students build awareness about college and career possibilities, including growth fields in Tulsa. “The students may not even realize they exist,” says Gist.

To offer more paid internships, the school district has partnered with Genesys Works, a nonprofit created 20 years ago.

Beginning this summer, an initial cohort of rising seniors in Tulsa will get eight weeks of technical and professional skills training from Genesys Works. After that, they’ll begin a yearlong paid internship with a local or national company——Consumer Affairs, Williams, and Saint Francis Healthcare have agreed to host interns. Genesys Works’ national partners include Baker Hughes, Chevron, Accenture, and Target.

Participants receive college and career guidance, coaching, and, where needed, wraparound supports such as help covering transportation costs to get to their internships. They work 20 hours per week as interns, leaving school at midday for a four-hour daily stint at one of the group’s corporate partners. Interns earn roughly $14/hour depending on the market, between $10K and $14K for the year.

Employers cover about two-thirds of student costs, with the rest coming from philanthropy, says Mandy Hildenbrand, chief services officer for Genesys Works. She says the group has had success in the energy sector, healthcare, insurance, professional services, consumer goods, and financial services.

“To some, Genesys Works is a cornerstone of their talent development strategy, and to others we are one solution that helps the company meet its goals,” she says, “whether those be diversity goals, early-career hiring, or developing talent from alternative backgrounds.”

Expanding Model: Genesys Works works with 2,400 students a year across its six sites: the Bay Area, Chicago, Houston, greater D.C., New York City, and the Twin Cities. The expansion into Tulsa is part of the group’s overall growth strategy, says Hildenbrand.

“We’re going into ‘midtier’ cities that have significant talent needs and significant employment opportunities and that may have been overlooked by national workforce development organizations that are focusing more on larger cities,” she says.

Gist wasn’t initially sure the Tulsa schools needed to work with an intermediary to add internship opportunities, in this case for students who would be the first in their generation to attend college and who are academically on track.

Yet she says Genesys Works offers services that would be hard for the schools to do on their own, including the training to prepare students for internships, the relationship building with companies, and the support to make sure students get the most out of their experience.

Williams is a natural gas and clean energy company based in Tulsa. It’s been a Genesys Works partner for 14 years, through the group’s Houston site.

The collaboration helps Williams to provide high school students with equitable access to internships and experiences, removing barriers they face before and during the internship, says Leonelle Thompson, the company’s supervisor of early career.

Williams also is looking to develop its talent pipeline into K-12, says Thompson.

“We should educate students about possible career opportunities before they graduate high school,” she says. “College should not be the only time students learn about career paths, as we know not every high school student is going to matriculate to college.”

The vast majority of Genesys Works’ participating students (88%) later attend college, with 72% earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in six years. But the increasing emphasis by employers on skills-based hiring is a welcome shift, says Hildenbrand. The group is working to support different paths to economic sustainability for students, including through certification programs and employment after high school.

Gist says the Tulsa schools’ goal for the new collaboration is to expose students to careers and to show them the path to pursuing them. “You never know what’s going to light a fire,” she says.

The schools want more connections for students with employers, big and small. Companies can dip a toe in the water, says Gist, by taking students on a one-day job-shadowing trip or sending employees to give a talk about careers.

The Kicker: “I want people to know how serious we are about this,” Gist says. “We’re here. We’re fully ready.”

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Better Than a Coin Flip

The Economist this week became the latest mainstream news outlet to wade into the debate over college program ROI—arguing that governments should accelerate the marketplace shift already underway as students increasingly choose fields of study linked to higher earnings.

The magazine cites some recent moves, like the Biden administration’s proposal to set a minimum earnings threshold for career-oriented programs. And like many education and labor market experts, it also calls on the U.S. and other governments to invest in better data to help students make more informed choices.

Already, investments in the federal College Scorecard and state longitudinal data systems that connect education and workforce data have been a boon to research on college ROI. (There’s been so much, in fact, that it can be hard to keep track.)

The latest such research comes from Preston Cooper, senior fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, who is cited in the magazine. Cooper did an analysis of the ROI of 47K different undergraduate degrees and certificates that receive federal student aid funding, and then zeroed in on those providing the biggest returns for low-income students.

He found that degree and certificate programs at colleges serving large numbers of low-income students tend to provide a lower ROI than those at institutions serving more well-off students.

  • At colleges and universities serving the lowest-income students, almost half of the programs provide no financial return—while that’s the case for only 20% of programs at institutions serving the wealthiest students.

“It’s striking how different typical ROI is for schools serving different groups of students,” Cooper says. “We often talk about college as a surefire investment, but for many of our most vulnerable students, whether higher education will pay off can be close to a coin flip.”

The Details: Institutions serving low-income students tend to move students into the middle class through the skilled trades, Cooper found, while those serving higher-income students rely on the bachelor’s degree to create economic value.

  • At institutions with the lowest-income students, just 30% of high-value programs are bachelor’s degrees, and nearly half are undergraduate certificates.
  • Programs providing a high ROI at low-income institutions are heavily concentrated in the healthcare fields, particularly associate degrees and certificates in nursing. Certificates in fields like precision metalworking, vehicle maintenance, and ground transportation also tend to be high ROI.

Social capital plays a role in all this, Cooper posits in the report, as does a lack of easily accessible information on outcomes—but, he says, the first order of business is to change incentives for colleges. “Public policy needs to hold schools accountable for their outcomes,” he says. “But let schools figure out the best way to achieve those outcomes.”

Cooper has proposed boosting Pell Grant aid for students in high-ROI programs, which might encourage institutions to expand capacity in those programs. And he’s a big fan of the funding model of the Texas State Technical College system, which is based primarily on what students earn after leaving college. The system has been more discerning about programs, and it’s seen graduate wages go up since that model was adopted more than a decade ago.

A few aspiring accreditors, including the Workforce Talent Educators Association, are working on measures to hold colleges more accountable for workforce outcomes. Florida recently moved its performance-based funding formula more in that direction, and Texas is likely to make a similar shift in funding for all its community colleges.

Many see the growing focus on financial returns as “crude,” as The Economist writes. (The decline of humanities majors like English has certainly been the talk of the town.) And there are big concerns about how jobs that have high social value and low wages factor into the ROI discussion.

Yet public perception and policy momentum appear to be shifting. And The Economist notes that this is a global phenomenon. — By Elyse Ashburn

Work Shift: The college payoffROI and Economic mobility

We’ve rounded up the latest research on college ROI and economic mobility so you don’t have to.

Rebrand for Guild

Guild, the high-profile education benefit company, has dropped “Education” from its name while introducing new career-advancement services. The moves are a signal that Guild’s corporate partners increasingly are focused on the retention and career mobility of their frontline workers.

The company’s platform features education programs, career development, and one-on-one coaching. It works with Walmart, Chipotle, Discover, Hilton, Target, Disney, Providence Health, and UCHealth, among others.

More than half of Guild’s recently added corporate partners focused on career mobility in developing their workforce benefits with the company, says Rachel Romer, CEO and co-founder of Guild:

“For some employees, that might mean reengaging with their educational journey through a high school completion program, some may be ready to embark on a degree program that will support their long-term goals,” Romer says, while “others may want to do a real-time career pivot with the help of a specialized certificate program.”

Guild says its new Career Accelerator is aimed at workers who are looking beyond education and skilling. It offers on-demand, bite-size, interactive activities, with modules on job searches, developing résumés, networking, and interviewing. (Amazon’s Career Choice program last year tapped Kaplan and Beyond 12 for career coaching.)

The tools are focused on helping employees get a promotion or new role within their company. And Guild says they give companies insight on career mobility, to build pipelines of internal talent for in-demand roles.

Open Tabs

Degree Requirements
New Jersey is the seventh state to move toward skills-based hiring. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, this week signed an executive order that prioritizes skills and work experience over college degree requirements for certain state job openings. He called on a state commission to determine which jobs could see the change. The state follows similar actions by Maryland, Colorado, Utah, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Alaska.

New Player
The nonprofit started by Harvard University and MIT with the more than $700M sale of edX to 2U has picked a name, hired a CEO, and released some details about its approach. The Axim Collaborative will focus on the success of underserved learners, including their postgraduation employment. Stephanie Khurana, its new CEO, was managing partner and COO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a global venture philanthropy.

Boosting Wages
Students at three Ohio community colleges who were enrolled in programs that are based on the City University of New York’s ASAP, which features financial and other supports, had an earnings boost during the pandemic. A study conducted by MDRC found that six years out, student participants with any earnings had an average wage of $27,715, compared to the control group’s $24,955. The programs also raised completion rates by 50%.

Missing Workers
The labor force is about 900K people smaller than expected, primarily because of pandemic-related deaths and reduced immigration, write four researchers for the Brookings Institution. While Americans’ propensity to work has recovered on net, the recovery was not even. In particular, white men of all ages and older white women are participating less in the workforce than they were before the pandemic.

Storm Clouds
Some states are beginning to see a revenue pinch due to a slumping stock market, layoffs in banking and tech, slower consumer spending, and lower energy prices, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. California, for example, faces a $24B budget deficit in the coming fiscal year, which is testing its plan to expand safety net programs. Other states facing declining revenue include New York, Maryland, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska.

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— Paul Fain

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