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The Job: Blurred Boundaries

The Job
Universities team up with a tech training firm to help students prepare for the job market and to enroll cohorts of working learners from its corporate partners. Also, Google’s new specializations blend the expertise of industry and higher ed, and the latest data on slowing college enrollment declines.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash
Photo by Wade Austin Ellis on Unsplash
A Concierge for University Tech Training
Companies in Jacksonville, Fla., have been begging for more hires with the tech skills to hit the ground running. But four-year degree programs too often fail to deliver the training needed by local employers in the banking, insurance, and healthcare industries.
Jacksonville University needed help to prevent “graduates coming out of college who are just not ready to take on the job,” says Christine Sapienza, the private university’s provost. So four years ago JU turned to SkillStorm, a company with a track record as a tech staffing firm that had recently relocated its headquarters to the city.
SkillStorm worked with the university and its faculty members to develop tech-related coursework for degree programs. The goal wasn’t to create new credentials for students to earn, which would add more time and money as they pursued degrees.
“We’re actually taking the skills and putting them into the curriculum,” Sapienza says.
Likewise, the company helped to tailor course material to the hiring needs of local employers. As a result, instead of just adding generalized skills training in Salesforce and AWS tools, the university has been able to offer customized content with the industry certifications its graduates need to thrive in jobs with Bank of America or other companies.
Sapienza says the training is like an extended internship and has been a game changer for students. She describes SkillStorm’s role as a concierge with detailed knowledge about what industries want. Without that, she says, embedded tech content stands a good chance of falling flat with both students and employers.
“There’s so much competition,” she says, including free online content from tech companies themselves. “We can find those courses all over the country.”
SkillStorm in recent years has expanded its work with higher education and industry partners. The company offers students 12 free and self-paced introductory courses in tech, as well as 10 for-fee certification tracks its instructors lead as authorized trainers for AWS, Pega, CompTIA, and other major platforms. In addition, it runs federally registered IT apprenticeships for veterans of the U.S. military and transitioning service members.
The company also manages ambitious upskilling projects for companies. It works with employers to figure out their technology requirements, then trains full teams of tech workers for them. Earning a federal security clearance often is part of the process. More than 3K learners have completed these training tracks during the last three years. And the company has placed 10K tech consultants in full-time roles.
Here’s how the program works: For its company training, SkillStorm itself hires participants and trains them for 12 to 14 weeks. Completers are then deployed as consultants in two-year stints with Fortune 500 firms, typically financial services companies. SkillStorm has physical “delivery centers” where its IT workers can tackle projects for clients. 
Participants are paid throughout the process, with pay rates of $20 per hour during the training and salaries up to $60K during their first year as consultants, with a possible wage hike to follow. They can become full-time employees at no cost to companies after two years. 
“SkillStorm’s programs are designed to improve the employability of college graduates and alumni,” says Joe Mitchell, the company’s COO.
Work Shift: With Google’s latest push, a blending of industry and higher ed
Google’s new industry specializations were co-built by its experts and faculty at four top universities—part of a larger push to combine forces with higher education to drive economic mobility.
 
This week SkillStorm launched an effort aimed at deepening ties with higher education. The new Upskill Together platform offers an initial group of seven university partners (five located in Florida) access to SkillStorm’s instructor-led online training. Learners at those institutions will be able to earn industry-recognized credentials in skills like cloud computing, CRM, and automation.
“The SkillStorm courses provide an easy way, through pre-developed content, to provide faculty with additional resources that can be used to prepare students for these certifications, while working alongside central university processes to provide certification vouchers to students,” says Bridgette Cram, interim vice president of innovative education and student success at Florida International University, a participant in the program.
For each student who trains on the platform through one of the university or corporate partners, SkillStorm will offer a training scholarship to an unaffiliated learner with demonstrated financial need, with a focus on women, veterans, and members of other groups that have been underrepresented in the tech industry.
Sapienza says SkillStorm’s business model gives her confidence that it can successfully encourage employers to step up and deliver real scale through the new platform and its other offerings.
“They’re going for large corporate programs,” she says, which can enroll cohorts of 50 to 100 employees in training that’s embedded at Jacksonville University or SkillStorm’s other academic partners. “They’re tapping multiple industries on the shoulder.”
The company is seeking to hire and train 10K college graduates and veterans over the next three years, says Mitchell. Upskill Together could double that number. 
He says some of those opportunities will be open to participants without degrees. 
“While college is an incredibly powerful engine of economic mobility, it’s also possible for universities to serve as hubs of community economic development without every participant having to earn a four-year degree before entering the workforce.”
Mitchell says the company’s overall strategy with its four-year university and community college partners is to help them as they develop tech talent to meet serious labor shortages across a wide range of industries. That means taking on higher education’s biggest challenges in tech training, which he says are a lack of instructors and start-up funding, as well as limited ability to grow if demand increases.
The Kicker: “We view ourselves not as an alternative to ‘traditional’ higher education, but as a partner and collaborator,” says Mitchell.
Enrollment Slide Slows
Undergraduate enrollment continued to slide this falldropping a more measured 1.1%. That rate of decline is consistent with losses during the decade before the pandemic, which triggered a full-on collapse.
“After two straight years of historically large losses, it is particularly troubling that numbers are still falling, especially among freshmen,” says Doug Shapiro, executive director of the research center. “Although the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach.”
Notably, the bleeding at community colleges slowed, though the sector still saw a small decrease. Dual enrollment was key to the leveling off in enrollments at community colleges. Those institutions experienced an 11.5% jump in the number of dual-enrolled high school students.
That growth is a return to dual enrollment’s previous trajectory, before the pandemic disrupted many programs, says Amy Williams, executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. Dual enrollment is on the rise, she says, because more schools and colleges recognize the role it can play in narrowing achievement gaps.
“We are seeing a paradigm shift in the field,” Williams says. “It is not everywhere all at once…but we are seeing dual and concurrent enrollment shift from ‘programs of privilege’ to more intentionally focused on increasing equity.”
The fall enrollment figures from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center are still preliminary. They cover 63% of degree-granting institutions that participate in the clearinghouse, a total sample that accounts for roughly 97% of all enrollments in U.S. postsecondary education.
Noteworthy trends in undergraduate enrollment from the new data include:
  • Adult enrollments continue to be hit especially hard. The number of students aged 25 to 29 dropped 8.2% this fall, for a combined decline of 15.3% over the past two years.
  • Women (down 2.1%) continue to see steeper drops than men (down 0.7%), though they still significantly outnumber men in higher education.
  • White student enrollments are down the most over the past two years, with another 3.6% drop this fall. Black enrollment is also down (1.6%). Latino enrollment may be making a recovery with a 1.2% increase.
Graduate enrollment also took a turn this fall, declining 1% after increasing this past fall. The only credential types to see growth this semester were undergraduate (up 2.5%) and graduate (up 2.6%) certificates. Both were also up last fall. Elyse Ashburn
Open Tabs
Nondegree Hiring
A new scorecard ranks 250 large companies by how well they create economic mobility for their workers. The American Opportunity Index is from the Burning Glass Institute, Harvard Business School’s Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Schultz Family Foundation. It uses a big-data analysis of career histories, job postings, and salaries to study the progress of workers in jobs that are open to those without college degrees.
Accountability Policies
Most states tie some support for public colleges to performance metrics. A new study from a team of researchers with InformEd States is the first to analyze the impact of these policies on student debt levels, finding no effect from workforce and equity metrics. Overall, performance funding had little impact across community colleges. But the researchers caution that the results varied while also pointing to limits of data sources.
The gainful-employment rule proposed by the Biden administration would terminate federal aid eligibility for a large number of college programs with positive ROI for graduates, including almost 70% of certificate programs in medical assisting, while passing a smaller number of negative-ROI programs, according to an analysis by Preston Cooper, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.
Gender Gap
In every U.S. state, young women are more likely than their male counterparts to have earned a bachelor’s degree, Richard V. Reeves and Ember Smith write for the Brookings Institution. This gender gap is nine percentage points at the national level, with 41% of women and 32% of men holding four-year degrees in 2020. Boys begin falling behind in grade school and are less likely to graduate from high school.
Education Benefits
“What we really focus on is education that leads to career success,” Tammy Thieman, director of Amazon’s free college benefit, said during a recent Strada Education Network webcast. The company tells workers which roles and employers a credential can lead to, she says. “Amazon is agnostic at the end of the program as to whether or not somebody lands a job at Amazon or they land external to Amazon.”
Career Ladders
The nation’s shortage of home-care workers worsened during the pandemic, as low-paid workers quit for less taxing jobs with better wages, Christopher Rowland reports for The Washington Post. The median pay for personal care aides was $14.27 an hour in 2021. The industry, which estimates it will need 1M more workers by 2020, is “examining ways to make home care work a rung in a health-care career ladder.”
Tech Certifications
Cisco says it will provide digital and cybersecurity skills training to 25M learners over the next 10 years through its Cisco Networking Academy program, which the company created 25 years ago. More than 17.5M people have taken courses through the academy. Cisco cited several programs, including a new partnership with the ManpowerGroup’s Experis and the recently created Skills for All, a free, mobile-first education tool.
What’s driving higher education’s sustained enrollment declines? Will a recovery follow? Let me know what you think. —@paulfain
 
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