Short, Affordable Alternatives to College

Short, Affordable Alternatives to College

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March 2, 2023

Short, Affordable Alternatives to College

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 11:03 pm
Tags: cyber school, education, high school, Innosight Institute, virtual school

The second of two items from a neo-liberal…  This one is an item from a business professor with little direct experience in education, but who believes free market economic principles are the answer to education’s (and pretty much all other society’s social) problems.

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Short, Affordable Alternatives to College

Plus, a New Deal on From Reopen to Reinvent and this Newsletter




When we talk postsecondary education in this country, we’re typically talking about the nearly 19 million students enrolled in accredited colleges and universities. But as Jeff Selingo pointed out in the latest episode of Future U., we tend to ignore the individuals that don’t follow that pathway and yet do find plenty of ways to learn and upskill.

For point of comparison, compare the 19 million number to the more than 53 million people in the United States who are in low-wage jobs that are often considered dead-end, meaning they provide little career mobility and are often at risk of being automated. They count for 44% of all workers in the United States. Of those 53 million people, nearly half of them did not complete high school or pursue any kind of post-secondary education after graduating.

That’s why I was so pleased that in the latest episode we interviewed Reuben Ogbonna, co-founder and executive director of the Marcy Lab School, and Rebecca Taber Staehelin, co-founder and co-CEO of Merit America. These programs serve students that don’t typically go to college with innovative, supportive, and affordable models that focus on delivering value. I’ve been talking about programs like these a lot in past episodes of the podcast, so I was pleased to open the window on them and explore their models more.

What exactly do these models do?

As Rebecca told us:

“Imagine that you are driving for DoorDash by day, caring for your kids at night, earning $25,000 per year. You’re hardworking, you’ve got tons of talent, but you don’t have the time or money to go back to school or join a full-time training program. You probably find Merit America on TikTok or from an email from DoorDash, and you enroll without quitting your day job. Over the course of three to four months, you’ll spend 20 hours a week in fully online learning, which is a combination of earning an industry recognized credential from one of our partners like Google and getting coaching on professional skills, on sticking with the program, on everything you need to make a major career transition. You do this all alongside a community of peers with lots of events and connection opportunities so that you realize you’re not in it alone even though it’s hopefully working with your work schedule.

Once you’ve earned that certificate, you join our job success phase, connect with our employer partners, get support in an individualized job search, and hopefully within a few months you have landed a great new career that pays a livable wage with real upward mobility. So really, to put it more succinctly, you get coached, you get certified, you get a great new career.”

Or in the case of the Marcy Lab School, Reuben told us:

“The Marcy Lab School is serving a student who has recently graduated from high school and is looking for what they’ve seen throughout their lives as a traditional college experience. They’re looking for something that may not be residential, but it has a place-based component to it. They’re looking for a major set of coursework that attract them towards a career plus liberal studies that will give them an opportunity to have meaningful and rich conversations with peers that expands their mindset. They’re looking for a pathway to a job that pays them really well, but most importantly, they’re looking for a pathway that doesn’t require them to take on a bunch of student loan debt….

Our program is full-time. It’s 12 months long. Right now, we have one academic major in computer science and software engineering, and we pair that academic major with a leadership component that we call our leadership development program. And that’s a combination of race and identity development coursework, financial literacy, civic studies, and all that comes together to form what we believe is a really cohesive post-secondary experience designed to meet the needs of an 18- to a 24-year old who’s looking for their main post-secondary learning experience. On the back end of the program, we have a partnerships team that goes out into the community in New York City and sources incredible technical career opportunities for our fellows. We work with companies like Spotify and Squarespace and the New York Times. … [We’re] really proud to say that on average our grads are earning about $106,000 per year within three to six months of graduating.”

The conversation was chock full of insights. Here I want to name three:

  1. What these models do is rethink college costs—something that needs rethinking, as I argued on our past episode about the high cost of college. They are still operating with a subsidy—in their case, it’s in the form of philanthropy, not government aid—but they’ve used that subsidy to structure their programs completely differently from a traditional college in a way that’s far more supportive of the students they serve and far more affordable. As a student, you don’t pay to enroll in Merit America, for example. You only pay after you leave and get a job that pays above a certain income level, at which point you pay $95 a month for five years.
  2. I also loved Rebecca’s point toward the middle of the episode about how programs like these—and not just accredited colleges—ought to be eligible for federal financial aid. Her point has echoes of what Stig Leschly has argued and what I talked about on the college costs episode.
  3. These programs take a no-excuses mindset to everything they do, as they seek to be “student ready.” They don’t ask whether the students are “college ready.”

You can listen to the whole episode here at “Short, Affordable Alternatives To College.”

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Imagine a Better Future for Students in Sierra Leone and Liberia

In the latest episode of Class Disrupted, Diane Tavenner and I reflected on our recent trips abroad, from describing what we saw and learned and what those might mean for shaping educational opportunities for each and every child worldwide. Diane was in India and, as I’ve written, I journeyed to Sierra Leone and Liberia in my role as a board member at Imagine Worldwide. You can read the transcript or listen to the whole episode here at “Education Reflections from Trips to Sierra Leone, Liberia and India.”

I also wrote about my thoughts from the trip in Forbes in a piece titled “The Learning Leapfrog In Liberia, Sierra Leone.” I will post this piece to my Substack newsletter in a few weeks as a free post so everyone can read it.

On Reinventing K–12 Schools

A few news items around my book, From Reopen to Reinvent, which came out last July (and is available for purchase here).

More generally, I’ve been traveling a fair bit speaking to educators about the book’s core messages and getting to work with them on innovating to better serve students. And in the last couple weeks, four more podcasts came out that featured me talking about different themes from the book.

First, I joined Corey Mohn, president and executive director of the CAPS Network, on his podcast in a two-part series about ways to reimagine the future of education. I’ve been incredibly inspired by the work the CAPS Network is doing to reimagine high school, so I was thrilled to join Corey in conversation. The first episode is about the possibilities for education institutions and communities to find synergy and the important intersection of academics with the building of social capital and durable skills, or what I call habits of success. Check it out here at “The Network: Reinvent the Future.” The second part of the episode, which is where Corey and I really started humming, talked about the role educators play in the new vision for education. We explored how the relationship between educators and students can change and how these changes might alter the way students see their own future. Listen to it here at “Educators’ Roles Reinvented.”

Next, Dr. Brett Jacobsen welcomed me to his “Start with Questions: Mount Vernon Ventures Podcast.” If you don’t know the Mount Vernon School in Atlanta, well, you should. It’s doing incredible work for students preK through high school. But it also has a ventures arm that partners with educators and leaders all over the world to strengthen brand identity, deepen organizational innovation, scale community impact, and build a transformative curriculum. In the podcast, “What is the purpose of school,” we talked about the progress that has been made in education since my first book, Disrupting Class, the most urgent questions confronting education today, six domains every school should consider, signals we need to be paying attention to, and strategic next steps for school communities.

And finally, you can also check out my conversation On the Only Boring People podcast—that I hope isn’t boring! In “Experimentation and Education Reform with Michael Horn” we tackled some really interesting questions and tensions in the field of education.

World-Class Education

Finally, two more links of interest before you go.

  1. Jeff Selingo and I joined Jill Shah, president of the Shah Foundation, on their “Catalysts for Change: What Is World Class Education?” podcast. Check out the episode, “Michael Horn and Jeff Selingo on New Paradigms in Higher Ed.” I think you’ll really enjoy the back-and-forths we all had, filled with nuance and depth.
  2. It’s not every day that you think online learning plus classical education, but Great Hearts Academies is doing both. Great Hearts, known for its high-quality classical education charter schools, is increasingly turning heads with both its high-quality approach to classical education and its rapid innovation. They have now announced a new model—the Great Hearts Online National Academy—and Kurtis Indorf from Great Hearts joined me to share more. You can watch our conversation here.

As always, thanks for reading, writing, and listening.

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