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Education Nonprofit Gets $500K for Hiring Platform, Hybrid Program

The nonprofit Education at Work will use a grant from the Salesforce Foundation to fund the development of a hiring tool for Fortune 500 companies and a new employment “hub” in downtown Indianapolis.

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Bolstered by a $500,000 grant from the Salesforce Foundation this week, the national nonprofit Education at Work is building new hiring software and a hybrid learning program for students to simultaneously obtain money for college and relevant skills for a career.

The nonprofit, which connects high-achieving students with work-based learning programs at major employers, will use the money for two projects: a technology platform for Fortune 500 companies to hire and manage students from anywhere, based on their skills, for part-time employment; and a new employment “hub” in downtown Indianapolis that will serve 200 college students residing in that area, according to the grant application and a news release this week.

Education at Work will review student applications for its "Learn and Earn" program in the coming months and announce participating colleges and universities, along with additional corporate partners, in the spring. Construction of the Indianapolis hub is expected to wrap up in March.

According to the news release, Education at Work has served more than 8,000 students nationwide through its partnership with Fortune 500 employers and Arizona State University, Northern Kentucky University and University of Utah. It has awarded more than $100 million in higher education tuition (up to $5,250 per student annually) and combined wages since its 2012 inception. Half of the participants have been first-generation college graduates, and 75 percent of them are identified as students of color. On average, program participants graduated from college with 60 percent less debt — about $15,000 — than their institutional peers, and 86 percent were working full time within three months of graduation, compared to the national average of 69 percent, according to the news release.

Jane Swift, Education at Work president and former governor of Massachusetts, said her agency fosters a mutually beneficial arrangement with employers who need workers and college students in search of tuition money and career skills. She said the new hybrid work program aims to recruit 300 students who live more than 50 miles from the college they attend.

“This is a more modern version of how you can achieve a college education. A lot of work is shipped overseas that students could be performing here,” she said Thursday, adding that the jobs have varied from customer service to IT work, accounting, marketing, tutoring and dozens of other specialties across many academic disciplines. “The reality is, in order to do that, we have to offer remote, in-person and hybrid models.”

Swift acknowledged the growth of so many online certificates and vocational programs that prepare people for high-paying jobs in technical fields. She maintains her program is focused on helping students earn money while completing a college degree and obtaining career skills, regardless of whether they major in STEM subjects or the humanities.

“The great accelerator of wealth is still a college degree,” she said. “This program is [college] major agnostic. The world of work is so dynamic.”

Courses in the humanities provide students with strong critical thinking and communication skills that give them confidence to deal with the public, and their workplace experience could lead to opportunities in fields they otherwise wouldn't consider. Psychology majors, for example, have excelled in careers as corporate recruiters, Swift said.

Looking ahead, she said programs like Education at Work could help U.S. colleges struggling with declining enrollment if those institutions are willing to be more flexible. Imagine a professor in a school of business somewhere, she explained, that could set aside time to mentor a student on their marketing work with an employer, as opposed to a fictitious classroom project.

“It’s the real world,” she said, “not a simulation.”
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.