Almost $4B in state spending so far on short-term credentials, with more to come. Also, an online learning platform offers college credits for job-training programs and Google certs through its partnership with accredited universities.
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A weekly newsletter about the intersection of education and work. By Paul Fain
State Spending on Short-Term Credentials
As federal policymakers continue to debate whether to fund short-term credentials, states have pushed ahead—to the tune of $3.81B.
The majority of those billions have gone toward tuition support for students or for institutions to develop and expand programs, according to a first-ever analysis of the spending released this week by HCM Strategists. Five states, including Florida and Texas, have gone as far as adding short-term credentials to their state funding formulas.
- All told, the research found 59 different state-led initiatives across 28 states. Some date back to the early 2000s, but most were launched in the past five years.
“Perhaps the biggest driver of increased state funding for short-term credentials is economic in nature,” says Stephanie Murphy, director of postsecondary state policy and research for HCM. “It’s no secret that there is a significant disparity between the skills demanded by employers and the skills possessed by the workforce. This skills gap affects a region’s ability to attract and retain major employers.”
Short-term credentials are an attractive way to address that gap, she says, because they are targeted, flexible, and can be completed quickly. Eleven of the state initiatives, for example, used federal pandemic relief dollars to boost short programs, as a way to quickly help unemployed workers reenter the workforce.
Short programs also are seen as a tool to prevent job loss: they’re designed to be responsive to evolving industry demands and to provide upskilling that keeps workers’ skills—and state economies—at the cutting edge.
“Given the economic imperative, I firmly believe that the market for short-term credentials will continue to experience significant growth,” Murphy says.
Questions of Equity: Many states are investing with an eye toward helping their less advantaged workers compete. Twenty three of the state-led initiatives include some sort of equity component, with the majority targeting low-income populations. But beyond basic income restrictions for programs, the research found that states haven’t done much to ensure that the funding is actually getting to the people and communities with the greatest need.
“While equity is often touted as a key reason to support and fund short-term credential pathways, the actual policies themselves often lack intentional measures to promote inclusivity and equity,” Murphy says.
Connecticut’s CareerConneCT stands out as an exception, the research found. The program, which provides free training for high-demand careers, specifically targets populations that are underrepresented in the overall workforce or in particular fields, including Black and Indigenous residents, people with disabilities, young people who are disconnected from school and work, and women.
Illinois’s Workforce Equity Initiative, a statewide grant program for career-oriented programs, also takes a more tailored approach. Only colleges that have a population that is at least 60% Black students are eligible to participate. The initiative also has some basic outcomes requirements, stipulating that completers must earn at least 30% above the state’s minimum wage.
Thus far, participants have a 67% employment rate and earn an average of slightly more than $20 an hour. But the initiative provides little up-front information on what programs are most likely to pay off financially, HCM found.
Determining value: That lack of specificity around outcomes was common across the states. More than half (32) of the initiatives tried to limit funding to short-term credentials that were of high quality and value, but most offered only basic definitions—like “high-demand areas” or “competitive wages”—of what that means. In 11 states, though, at least one initiative had a more advanced definition.
Minnesota, in particular, stood out. The state rigorously evaluates the career pathways and programs that lead to higher-paying positions and requires comprehensive reporting on participant outcomes overall and by race, gender, geography, age, education, and housing status.
Looking forward, the report encourages states to set more specific standards around both quality and equity in short-term programs and to improve data collection.
It also nudges states to think about ways that programs built with federal emergency funds can be continued longer term. Florida, for example, recently transitioned its Open Door Grant Program, which provides tuition support for short-term credentials, from a federally funded to state-funded initiative.
It remains to be seen how many others follow suit. “States closely monitor the actions of other states—and they’re certainly keeping an eye on other states’ approaches to short-term credentials,” Murphy says. —By Elyse Ashburn
Noncollege and Accredited
Online course provider Outlier.org will offer a path to college credits for learners who have participated in job-training programs, including Merit America and Genesys Works, or those who have earned Google Career Certificates.
The company has been working to round out its course catalog, with 17 now available and one more to come soon, says Aaron Rasmussen, Outlier.org’s co-founder and CEO. Like Masterclass, which Rasmussen also co-founded, the platform’s content features cinematic production and some big-name instructors.
Outlier.org’s courses, priced at $199 per credit, lead directly to college credits through the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, which transcripts and oversees them. Likewise, the company last year partnered with Golden Gate University, a private nonprofit, to offer three online associate degrees. The Degrees+ program has an annual tuition of $4,470 ($149 per credit). The degrees from GGU are accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, a regional accreditor, and are eligible for federal aid.
The company’s play with online community college degrees in some ways resembles that of the former Ivy Bridge College, which until 2013 offered online and regionally accredited two-year degrees through its partnership with Tiffin University, a small private college.
Another upstart in this vein is Campus, which offers accredited online associate degrees and certificates, as well as a few in-person and hybrid certificate programs. The ed-tech company has prominent backers and last year acquired MTI College, a for-profit located in Sacramento.
To add value to degrees from GGU and Outlier.org, the programs this fall will begin incorporating certificates from Google. GGU faculty members will lead those courses, which will feature structured cohorts and term schedules.
Outlier.org says it’s tapping Google certificates and other microcredentials, from companies like Salesforce and IBM, to help bridge the gap between career-oriented learning and traditional college. Employers recognize the brands of those certificates, says Rasmussen, which can be stacked into degrees by enrolling through Outlier.org.
“The ultimate goal is an associate degree,” he says.
The Google certificates initially will be available on the platform for corporate learning programs and K-12 students in dual-enrollment tracks. Outlier.org wouldn’t share enrollment numbers, but it says high school students now account for one in five of its learners.
Last week, Outlier.org announced that alumni of several major noncollege workforce training programs would be eligible this fall to receive a semester of transfer credit toward the associate degrees offered on its platform. Eligible programs include AmeriCorps, Genesys Works, Merit America, SkillUp Coalition, and Thinkful by Chegg.
The company is looking to expand entry points for its associate degrees, Rasmussen says, with a blend of learning from community college, career certificates, and high school.
Rasmussen says he understands skepticism among colleges about partnerships with noncollege platforms. “It does take time to build confidence across that ed-tech and university divide,” he says. But if on-ramps to degrees are good for students, he asks, why not try them?
The Kicker: “There are basically people who are committed to access to education, and those who aren’t,” says Rasmussen.
Labor market information can help colleges meet both quality and equity goals, write researchers for Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations. But the data’s usage in higher education is relatively new and varies across institutions. The recent study, which includes case studies of 10 colleges, calls for funding and collaborative efforts to develop institutional infrastructures to support the information’s use.
Georgia and Florida are the latest states to seek to remove degree requirements for a substantial number of jobs in state government, Stacey Guber and Jonathan Wolfson of the Cicero Institute write in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed such a law last month, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a similar one last week. That makes 11 states so far, although others may have moved this way.
Wiley last week announced plans to sell its job-training and online program management divisions as part of a “rightsizing” and restructuring. The large publishing company saw 8% growth on $63M in revenue last quarter for its hire-train-deploy segment, Wiley Edge, which enlisted 15 new corporations across energy, tech, and financial services. But Wiley executives said the company is leaning into core strengths around research and learning.
Students attending 2,414 colleges and universities, representing 93% of U.S. undergraduates, receive at least a minimal return on their investment, according to a new analysis from the Institute for Higher Education Policy. But 517 institutions—most of them for-profits or private nonprofits—do not meet that threshold, which requires students’ median earnings after college to exceed those of the typical high school graduate in their state and allow them to recoup their investment in college within 10 years.
Congress should “dramatically reform” WIOA and other workforce development funding streams, reallocating some of those funds to training models that are effective middle-skill pathways to jobs, Roger Low, founder and CEO of the Colorado Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative, writes for Stanford Social Innovation Review. However, Low says, strong incentives to protect existing job-training structures make changing WIOA difficult.
Since 2018, more than 2,400 people have moved to Tulsa, Okla., as part of a program that pays remote workers $10K to relocate to the city, Rani Molla writes for Vox. The median annual wage for these workers tops $100K, and 90% have remained in Tulsa beyond a one-year commitment. The George Kaiser Family Foundation has helped fund Tulsa Remote, as well as tech training and accelerator programs in the city.
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