In the past few months, Strada Education Network has engaged in some very smart philanthropy on behalf of higher education. Previously one of the nation’s major student loan guarantors under the name USA Funds, Strada is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit that over the past five years has awarded about $100 million in grants to improve student success and forge powerful connections between higher education and meaningful employment.
That sum will grab anyone’s attention, but it’s the strategic direction behind Strada’s recent investments that’s the more important news. Higher education leaders and policy makers take notice: Strada is determined to build and take to scale several stronger education-to-employment on-ramps for the 32 million Americans who are jobless or lack the skills and credentials to succeed in a career. It’s a bold agenda.
Strada has recently handed out multiple grants totaling more than $11 million to support new education and training pathways for working adults and disenfranchised youth who are trying to become more competitive in the labor market.
A grant announced in January provided a total of $3.5 million to the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Center for Best Practices and to the Education Commission of the States (ECS). With Strada’s support, NGA will “launch a policy academy for a select cohort of pilot states…to create state-based plans to refresh the skills of working adults.” The ECS initiative will focus on youth, between 18-24 years of age, who are not in school and who do not have jobs. Its partnership with Strada is aimed at developing and disseminating policies that will enable such disconnected youth earn the educational credentials essential to successful careers.
In February, Strada announced $8 million in grants to seven organizations that are working to prepare individuals of all ages for high-demand careers. Selected from hundreds of applicants, the following winners – which include traditional universities as well as nonprofit agencies and workforce development organizations – received three-year grants to support their educational innovation:
1. Bay Path University will use its $1.6 million grant to increase training in cybersecurity and information technology for adult women who are enrolled in its American Women’s College.
2. George Mason University received $1 million in partnership with Northern Virginia Community College to create a new career accelerator. The accelerator features an education-to-employment pathway that will help students plan their education so that it is directly connected to employment goals and career readiness.
3. Oregon State University’s $774,000 grant will allow the university to expand its College of Business’ Education to Career program, fund scholarships for low income students, design six experiential career preparation courses and place students in work-based education programs with more than 450 employer partners.
4. Code Nation received $1.5 million to provide free computer science classes, internships and work-based learning for low-income high school students seeking careers in technology.
5. Community Education Coalition, an Indiana-based nonprofit, was awarded $1 million to expand Ivy Tech Community College programs in information technology and support additional workforce training for low-income adults in Southeast Indiana.
6. Commonwealth Corporation Foundation’s grant of $1 million will enable it to introduce new online curricula in IT, health care and advanced manufacturing for both working adults and educationally disconnected youth living in Massachusetts.
7. San Diego Workforce Partnership will use $1.14 million to train 500 adult learners, military veterans and students from low-income, underrepresented backgrounds in skills-based curricula in partnership with the University of California San Diego.
Common to all the grantees is the recognition that education programs that are grounded on an understanding of the real-world challenges of various careers stand the best chance of attracting and succeeding with the students who most need additional training to join the talent pipeline. It’s a rediscovery of the value of cooperative education, the collaboration of colleges with employers to offer education reinforced by work experiences.
Strada’s aspirations are substantial, captured in the words of its CEO, William Hansen, “This is more than just closing the skills gap. It’s about turning the tide for the working class by identifying and enabling new approaches to education and workforce development to take hold and scale.” In partnership with higher education institutions, the Strada strategy has the potential to introduce and refine substantial innovations for stronger workforce preparation.