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Best Buy’s Best Bets: How Best Buy Teen Tech Centers Are Redesigning Postsecondary Strategies for Teens

A young woman works on a laptop in a Best Buy Teen Tech Center
The Lab is working with Best Buy to broaden its postsecondary strategy to support participants in successful career transitions and future success

Customers don’t go to Best Buy just for the latest tech. They also go for the knowledgeable employees who can provide expert service to help them find the right products and solutions that meet their needs. But what you may not know is that as part of their deep commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community efforts, they have made significant investments in the new majority learner through their network of Best Buy Teen Tech Centers.

Teen Tech Centers are safe after-school places where teens join as members and get hands-on experience with cutting-edge technology to explore their interests in programming, filmmaking, music production, and visual design, all while developing critical employability skills such as teamwork and problem solving. In addition to developing in-demand skills relevant to their individual interests, Teen Tech Center members can enhance their skills through paid internships and deepen their understanding of career and college options by connecting with mentors in the Teen Tech Centers Career Pathways program.

By the year 2025, Best Buy has committed to serving 30,000 teens and expanding from 41 to 100 Teen Tech Centers located in disinvested communities across the nation. This commitment is aimed at providing young people more access to technology and building a strong and vibrant talent pipeline for jobs of the future. Teen Tech Center members not only have a safe space to gain confidence in using technology, but they also develop 21st century skills that are transferable to any career and leave prepared with the resources they need to make informed decisions about their future career and college options.

The expansion of Career Pathways programming at Teen Tech Centers is designed to meet the individual need of each participant because each member’s career and college pathway is unique to their own lived experiences, skills, passions, and interests. Ranging in age from 12 to 19, Teen Tech Center members are facing new choices when it comes to college and their future careers. College enrollment is declining, and young people are navigating a new world with different ways to learn and all types of post-secondary options. As a result of the pandemic, more young people are learning online, considering short-term credentials, entering apprenticeships, or transitioning into the workforce. How can Teen Tech Centers innovate to meet the needs of their members who face these new challenges of a pandemic-informed learning environment and evolving skills-based workforce?

In order to design solutions to these questions, the Best Buy Social Impact team partnered with the Education Design Lab in a design sprint dedicated to the challenge: How might Best Buy broaden its postsecondary strategy to best support participants in successful career transitions and future success?

For three months, the Lab worked alongside a design team comprised of Teen Tech Center coordinators, mentors, and partners to map the journeys of members and better understand what resources they need to help prepare them for the postsecondary options that enhance their interests, passions, skills, and confidence in their career trajectory.

Through our human-centered design process, the Lab worked with the Design Team to prototype solutions that consider the role of mentors, social capital, financial resources, scholarships, and career navigation tools. During the design sprint, the team identified potential partnerships with community colleges, HBCUs, and other employers in an effort to illuminate the multiple pathways to career fulfillment for Teen Tech Center members.

We understand that no one Teen Tech Center member’s pathway to success will be the same, which is why the design challenge ensures that prototyped solutions meet the criteria of recognizing the lived experience of the member, focuses on making skills visible, and ensures that opportunities are affordable, relevant, portable, and flexible to future options. The Lab looks forward to partnering with Best Buy as it leads in developing solutions that build a diverse talent pipeline.

To learn more about Best Buy Social Impact and the Education Design Lab’s design challenge, contact Senior Education Designer Leah Moschella.

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BRIDGES Rural spurs free, after-school child care program for parent learners at Washington State Community College

Student mother going to study with her daughter
This story by George Lorenzo originally appeared in Workforce Monitor on Nov. 12, 2021.

Working parents attending Washington State Community College (WSCC) in Ohio will soon have the opportunity to participate in a no-cost, after-school child care program created through a grant from the Education Design Lab’s (the Lab) BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge, funded by Ascendium Education Group.

Starting in January 2022, the pilot program will award 25 child care slots for free, after-school services to be provided and supported by the local Boys and Girls Club of Washington County in Marietta, Ohio, and the state’s Department of Job and Family Services Washington County office.

This program, which could become a model for other community colleges to emulate, comes at a time when child care has become an increasingly tough financial and time-management challenge, exacerbated by the pandemic, for parents who work during the day and need new options to balance work, family, and school as they try to advance in their careers. WSCC Dean of Student Success Kathy Temple-Miller said, “Students who need child care services have more trouble paying for college. That’s the concept behind starting this program.”

Studies Reflect Parent Challenges

As part of a national Student Financial Wellness study conducted by Trellis Research during the fall 2019 semester, WSCC surveyed 1,020 of its 2,300-plus enrolled students. The survey garnered 124 responses (12.2 percent). Among a wide variety of important data points, it was noted that 38 percent of WSCC respondents reported they are responsible for providing financial support for child care. Another 63 percent reported they worry about being able to pay their monthly expenses.

The results of another study conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research titled “Evaluating the Role of Campus Child Care in Student Parent Success,” published in October 2021, notes child care services at public institutions have declined by 14 percentage points since 2004. “The steepest decline − nearly 17 percentage points − has taken place at community colleges, where the largest share of student parents are enrolled.”

BRIDGES Focuses on Overcoming Barriers

The Lab’s Rural Design Challenge leads a cohort of five rural community colleges through a human-centered design process “to build their capacity to respond to their regional labor markets and to enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.” In addition to Washington State Community College, the four other community colleges in the program are College of Eastern Idaho, Eastern Maine Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, and Zane State Community College.

Lab Education Designer Miriam Swords Kalk explains that during a thorough review process for colleges interested in the BRIDGES initiative, “WSCC made it very clear to us how important it was for them to support people in their communities, especially those who have been historically underinvested in. It has been really exciting for WSCC to build this new partnership that will immediately address a major barrier so many students face.”

From the beginning, the BRIDGES’ human-centered design process has focused on gathering perspectives from students, WSCC faculty and staff, and the community at large, uncovering key opportunities and barriers that learners face as they work toward their goals. One WSCC student summed things up, explaining that “many students are juggling many responsibilities, all while having a very low income. Just being able to afford gas to make it to school can be a hurdle. Finding reliable, affordable child care can be quite daunting.” A WSCC staff member noted that “students wear many different hats – parent, worker, spouse, friend, caregiver, etc. These roles are often in conflict with each other and can be difficult for a student to navigate.”

Advice for Other Community Colleges

Temple-Miller called upon several local child care providers, initially lobbying unsuccessfully for a possible after-school solution until she found a more-than-willing partnership with the Boys and Girls Club. Through $70,000 in total startup funds awarded through the BRIDGES grant, WSCC brought in financial support of $7,200 for the first semester and an extension of BRIDGES financial support over future semesters if the pilot is ultimately successful. Plus, the Department of Jobs and Family Services has committed to providing additional funding support over the long term, Temple-Miller said. “The Boys and Girls Club was immediately on board. The director was ecstatic. They decided to stay open during the evening hours just for us.”

The services provided by the Boy and Girls Club include free busing for six K-12 schools in the area, some of which are up to a 45-minute drive away, so parents do not have to shuttle their children before heading to their WSCC classes. The Boys and Girls Club is also providing tutoring services, enrichment activities, homework assistance, and snacks and dinner. Typically, students will board buses around 3:30 p.m. and wind up staying at the Club until around 8:30 p.m., giving parents ample time to attend classes before picking their kids up and heading home.

Temple-Miller advises community colleges that may be thinking about starting a similar program to not be afraid to ask local child care providers for evening services, even though they typically close sometime between 6 and 7 p.m. daily. “We were going to shut down the concept because we researched all of the child care facilities across the county, and we were unable to find anyone who could offer evening services,” Temple-Miller said. “Sometimes, however, you just need that spark to cause the change. So, don’t be afraid to continue reaching out to find a partner.”

“WSCC’s creative brainstorming and partnership building, all with a constant focus on how to serve students who have family responsibilities and low incomes, will make their pilot program more accessible to parent learners in their community,” added Swords Kalk. “The partnership can serve as an inspiring model for other colleges that do not have on-campus child care centers and would like to connect their parent learners with affordable, high-quality, local, child care options.”

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How Pima Community College is Using Universal Design + Access To Create Micro-pathways for the Success of Adult Learners

Pima Community College (PCC) joined the first cohort of the Community College Growth Engine Fund Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund, for short—to design micro-pathways as a way to better access to and outcomes for adult learners in their region. Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid or low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree. In designing these micro-pathways, Pima is digging into the methods and values of universal access and design to better reach and serve adult learners on the margins.

 

What does universal access look like for Pima?

The Global Campaign for Education first defined universal access in their 2010 publication Universal Access to Learning Improved All Countries as “people’s equal ability to participate in an education system.” For Pima, designing for universal access means recreating post-secondary education with a focus on new majority learners, and more specifically, adult learners. 

Adult learners, or people entering higher ed at age 25 or older, may experience barriers with starting their education journey on the credit side of a college. Depending on the learner’s needs, they could face big barriers like the process to enroll or navigating how to complete FAFSA (less known by its full name, Free Application for Federal Student Aid). And, these pose even larger issues for learners seeking to enroll in Pima to upskill quickly as a means to a higher paying job. Pima is combating these barriers to entry by offering the micro-pathways they develop as non credit options and the siloed nature of credit vs. noncredit.

Once learners complete their micro-pathway, they can choose to enroll in a certificate or degree program at that point or at any point in the future. Their completed courses articulate to credit and will be waiting for them ”in escrow.” The noncredit-to-credit articulation has been fairly straightforward for Pima since they already have equivalent courses and credentials on the credit side through their high school dual enrollment programs, certificate programs, and degrees. 

Learners can also enter the college through dual enrollment (enrollment in high school and the community college simultaneously), direct enrollment (after graduating high school), or in noncredit—any learning seeking to enroll can choose what works best for them. 

 

What does universal design look like for Pima?

The Center for Excellence in Universal Design defines universal design as “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people.” For Pima, universal design is both a process and an outcome. In the context of college programming, designing universally means designing with an intentional focus on the needs of adult learners so that they can succeed in their goals. And, we know that when we design for those on the margins, we actually create models that benefit the vast majority of learners.

 

Three Key Universal Design Components of Pima’s Micro-pathways:

1. Competency-based: Pima’s micro-pathways integrate industry-recognized certifications for in-demand occupations identified by local employers. These certifications are issued by industry associations, such as the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council and the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians. They are based on competency frameworks and use an exam or performance-based assessment to ensure learners have mastered the competencies. In addition, Pima is piloting the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials, which are also competency-based, as a 21st century skills component in their micro-pathways.

2. Multi-modal: All eight of Pima’s micro-pathways are available in online, in-person, and hybrid modalities, as appropriate to the field. Learners can choose the one that best works for them. Pima has designed all three versions of their micro-pathways simultaneously to economize the processes.

3. Stackable: Pima’s micro-pathways stack into existing higher-level credit certificates and associate degrees in the same or similar career path. Learners receive articulated credits from their completed micro-pathways towards these credentials.

 

“We will have credit and noncredit-seeking learners together. Our shift at Pima around universal access and universal design is not about the learner. What difference does it make where a learner takes a course–in the credit or noncredit realm? Same with the design–regardless if it’s online, in-person or hybrid–it’s about competencies. Every learner is a learner that has value and worth and we are here to serve them in the manner that is best for them.” states Ian Roark, Vice President of Workforce Development and Strategic Partnerships. 

Designing micro-pathways for true universal access and design has been a challenging shift. Pima has needed to adapt their enterprise system, curriculum development procedures, and enrollment and management operations to make universal access and design as a process and a outcome, well, accessible. For example, adult learners in noncredit programs need different wrap-around supports from credit learners. Pima has appointed Corporate and Community Navigators who will focus on supporting learners enrolled in Pima’s eight micro-pathways. Despite the challenges and the need to pivot from how they have done things in the past, Pima is confident these new learning and credentialing models grounded in universal design and access will grow in scale and importance. They are hopeful their new programming can serve as a case study for changing state and federal policy.

“We know and believe this approach [universal access and universal design] has great value to employers, increases wages for workers, and lowers social costs. We will have data to support instituting the approach with things like funding for short-term Pell.” says Roark.

 

This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.

Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter #CCGEF.

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Austin Community College Scholarship Fund Helps Learners Start Here, Get There Through the Community College Growth Engine Fund

Austin Community College (ACC) is one of the six community colleges and systems that is part of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund, for short—to build and scale what we call “micro-pathways.” Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid or low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree. A key area of innovation for Austin is starting their new micro-pathways in the college’s noncredit Continuing Education (CE) division and seamlessly supporting learners to transition to credit bearing credentials where the CE coursework will articulate for credit.

As shared by the Fund’s design lead for Austin and Associate Vice Chancellor, Workforce Education, Gretchen Riehl, Ph.D., “The CE division is an on-ramp. We want to make it a seamless on-ramp, like on a freeway. We are using CE as a means to get learners up to speed for credit classes and on the same level as credit learners. We have a catch phrase at ACC, start here, get there, that encapsulates that philosophy. “

Though starting the micro-pathways in the noncredit CE division creates fewer barriers for the adult learners that Austin Community College hopes to serve, it does present funding challenges since these learners will not qualify for Pell Grants and may not be able to self-pay. We’ve seen a similar tension in our work for community colleges: Colleges move through a design process to create more equitable and accessible programming, but the traditional funding mechanisms in place to support students in reaching their goals fall drastically short.

The Texas Public Education Grant covers noncredit tuition and fees, for example, but there is a funding limit, which the college typically reaches for CE learners. There’s also local workforce system funding available, but only certain individuals qualify. However, through a series of synchronicities, Austin Community College was able to launch a new CE Scholarship Fund. It started with a donation from a local citizen who was familiar with the college’s CE department, followed by a gift from the deLaski Family Foundation for micro-scholarships. Right now Austin’s CE Scholarship Fund has $50,000 in micro-scholarships earmarked specifically for micro-pathway learners, and another $58,000 available for other “Fast Track” CE learners.

The CE Scholarship Fund will be used to help learners pay tuition and fees (such as exam fees), which Austin is hoping frees up funding for other needs like better quality transportation or child care—two of the biggest barriers their CE learners typically struggle with while taking classes. The money from the Scholarship Fund will support learners who are not able to access grant funding from other sources.

Austin Community College is housing their CE Scholarship Fund within the college’s foundation. They are promoting the availability of this funding on their micro-pathway website pages and through advisors guiding learners in Austin’s micro-pathways. Learners will follow similar processes as for credit, need-based scholarships. Given this money within the CE Scholarship Fund will be used quickly, Dr. Riehl is coordinating with Austin’s Foundation staff to set up a state employees charitable campaign where college employees and others can donate to the CE Scholarship Fund as a one time donation or in monthly contributions.

 

What are the steps to starting a CE (or other noncredit) scholarship fund? It’s easier than you think!

Step 1: Appoint a champion for the scholarship fund.
In order for a scholarship fund like this to meet its potential, it needs someone to take ownership, recommends Dr. Riehl. Dr. Riehl is currently serving as the champion for Austin Community College’s CE Scholarship Fund.

Step 2: Meet with the college’s foundation to set up the noncredit scholarship fund.
Given the foundation has processes for credit-based scholarships, setting it up should be fairly straightforward. We imagine most college’s will need to follow a process similar to that of Austin Community College. The big difference is that this funding should be earmarked for noncredit learners only, and potentially for specific programs, such as the college’s micro-pathways.

Step 3: Connect funders to the foundation.
This can be friends, family, or the community. When potential donors learn more about the goals of micro-pathways and the learners something like micro-pathways might support in reaching their goals, donors may want to contribute. Austin’s CE Scholarship Fund was started by a single donation of $40,000 from a community member (P.S. It was actually a friend of Dr. Riehl’s!).

Step 4: Build awareness of the scholarship fund internally and externally.
Let internal college departments and external partners, such as local workforce centers and partner community-based organizations, know about the scholarship fund. Ensure that the processes learners will need to follow to access the funding is made widely available through different channels and communicated clearly.

Step 5: Build awareness of the scholarship fund among learners.
Information should be posted on the same website pages as the college’s micro-pathway information. Offer clear steps, link to an application, and provide a phone number and email address in case learners have questions. Create flyer PDFs for partners to distribute with a phone number of someone who can help them through the process.

 

Establishing a CE Scholarship Fund has been exciting for Austin Community College, especially for employees in the CE department division that work directly with the learners this Scholarship Fund will support.

Dr. Riehl offers words of wisdom for community colleges that are thinking about setting up a noncredit scholarship fund: “It seems like such a simple thing. We all know we don’t have money for CE [noncredit programs]. Be open to trying something new that you haven’t done before. Just because you haven’t done it doesn’t mean it won’t work. And it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Sometimes you don’t know what works until you try.”

 

This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.

Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter #CCGEF.

 

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Ivy Tech Uses the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund as a Vehicle to Drive a One-Learner Ecosystem to Merge Credit + Noncredit

Ivy Tech Community College’s (ITCC) vision of one-learner ecosystem is starting to crystallize and become reality through the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund, for short. To the Indiana statewide community college system, one ecosystem means a system where all students, particularly adult learners, are honored for their life and work experiences and can receive credentials at a faster pace to help them achieve their goals in finding a better job or career. One system where noncredit and credit merge together and learners can move from one to the other seamlessly.

“Being part of the CCGEF design accelerator has helped Ivy Tech push forward with changes we had started to make. The Fund has enabled us to think even more broadly and creatively about innovation,” states Stacy Townsley, vice president of Adult Strategy and Statewide Partnerships. 

Take Ivy Tech’s CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway designed as part of the Fund, which qualifies learners to be heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers. At the Lab, we define a micro-pathway as two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) that are employer validated, lead to a median wage occupation, and start learners on the path to a degree. The CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway mixes noncredit and credit programming, offering tremendous advantages to learners. 

So, how does Ivy Tech’s CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway work?

During the first four weeks, learners participate in a hands-on noncredit program where they earn their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), which can be crosswalked for eight credit hours of the 18 credit hours in the CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway. They then seamlessly move into the credit portion of the micro-pathway to finish out the other 10 credit hours, where they participate in a paid internship or complete coursework to earn three industry-recognized logistics certifications. These two options can accommodate both learners who are currently unemployed or otherwise have the capacity to take part in an internship and learners who are currently working and can complete the logistics certifications online with a flexible schedule. As part of this micro-pathway, learners also earn a WIN Essential Soft Skills Credential

 

What are the advantages of this micro-pathway to learners?

 

  1. Learners are hired upon completion. There is tremendous demand and many unfilled jobs for heavy truck and tractor trailer drivers in the state of Indiana. These jobs pay annually on average $22.63 per hour in the region, a salary above regional median wage.
  2. Learners receive their CDL license and 18 academic credits in approximately four months. The 18 credit hours—discussed more in-depth under “how does it work?” and visible in the above graphic—is a combination of the eight credits that crosswalked over from the noncredit training, then 10 additional credit hours for completing the remainder of the CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway. This stacks into Ivy Tech’s Supply Chain Management Technical Certificate which can also be stacked towards an A.A.S. degree in Supply Chain Management. Learners have the option to earn the higher level credentials upon completion of the micro-pathway or at a later time.
  3. Once learners complete the noncredit CDL training and transition to coursework or an internship on the credit side, learners receive ongoing advising and support from campus program staff. Program staff help learners navigate completion of the micro-pathway and either secure employment or continue on to the Supply Chain Management Technical Certificate.
  4. Ivy Tech’s CDL Plus Certificate micro-pathway is eligible for federal student loans, as well as the state of Indiana’s Workforce Ready Grants, easing some financial barriers for learners who want to participate, but aren’t able to pay for it.
  5. This noncredit and credit mixed pathway can help learners build self-esteem as they transition into a college setting. Ivy Tech’s programming seeks to understand every learner’s career goals and what brings them to the micro-pathway, focusing deeply on nurturing learners’ growth, agency, and belonging. We walk through the relationship between investing in and understanding these drivers of engagement in our recent Learner Engagement Framework publication.

 

Ivy Tech is continuing to shape its “One-Learner Ecosystem” through the Community College Growth Engine Fund. In doing so, they are continuing to take a deeper look at how their processes affect the experience of each of their learners, moving from interest all the way through employment or a continuing academic path. Ivy Tech has several workshops planned this fall for campuses that are launching their new micro-pathways with cross-department representation. 

 

This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.

Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter #CCGEF

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A Silver Lining: State Funding Leveraged to Support Student Advising Innovation for Prince George’s Community College Micro-pathways

Prince George’s Community College has been instituting a holistic advising model to guide and support learners in its credit-bearing programs. For learners in Continuing Education (CE) programs, however, the college hasn’t been able to provide much-needed advising services due to severe resource constraints—until now. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Maryland issued the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Act, creating a flow of funding to Prince George’s to help individuals who have lost jobs or have had their hours reduced enroll in and complete short-term workforce development programs leading to industry-based credentials. Continuing Education learners are included in access to this funding and the college capacity it creates. 

How is Prince George’s using this unprecedented funding? To start, they’re hiring “Geer” Advisors to work directly with their Continuing Education learners. Prince George’s is supplementing the GEER Act funding with part of the incentive grant they received as part of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund—CCGEF or the Fund, for short—design accelerator to build and scale what we call “micro-pathways.” Micro-pathways are two or more stackable credentials (21st century skills included) validated by employers that lead unemployed, displaced, and underpaid or low-wage workers to median-wage occupations and on a path to a degree. 

Seven part-time Geer Advisors are supporting learners in their three new micro-pathways, Healthcare Technician, IT Support Specialist, and Hospitality Leadership, which are all housed under the Continuing Education umbrella. June Evans, design lead for Prince George’s CCGEF team and director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Yvette Snowden, associate vice president of Workforce Programs, Innovation, and Partnerships, facilitated journey mapping activities with internal stakeholders at the college to build out the new Geer advising model. Journey mapping, a human-centered design tool, was used to gain insight into a learner’s lived experience from admissions to orientation, all the way through moving into employment or further along the education continuum. 

As Dr. Snowden shares, “We are constantly helping students see their goals and additional ways to support them along their journey that will help them go further. This is a system of support that helps them address barriers that may prevent them from reaching their fullest potential.”

 

Below are three ways Geer Advisors will serve learners:

  1. Aid in getting started: Geer Advisors will assist learners with the admissions and registration process, then conduct individual or small group orientation sessions. Advisors will make sure learners have access to any wrap-around supports they may need such as transportation, child care, or internet access. 
  2. Troubleshoot academic issues: Geer Advisors will partner with instructors in flagging any issues learners may have with completing their coursework. They will ensure appropriate interventions are made to support learners and help them make it to the finish line of completion. 
  3. Facilitate the articulation process of noncredit to credit: As is an important innovation with micro-pathways for the CCGEF cohort, the Geer Advisors will expedite the noncredit-to-credit articulation process. That means providing learners with any needed paperwork and shepherding it through the PLA process to ensure they receive credit if they choose to continue on their education journey at that time. 

 

Prince George’s Community College is ecstatic to be able to provide the learners in their micro-pathways with the support they need. The alignment of credit and Continuing Education services is part of an overall shift the college is making towards reimagining postsecondary education. In the end, this is about how to create systems that benefit all students, of which Geer Advisors is an integral part. 

This article is written by Valerie Taylor as part of a new mini publication series, Innovation Snapshots: Ideas in Action. This series dives into the many innovative ideas and models that we have co-designed with 135+ colleges and learning institutions to better center and support new majority learners in reaching their goals. Spotlighting our partners across different Lab-driven initiatives, each part of this series focuses on a process or framework and the resulting work of a different partner. Find the rest of the series here.

Learn more about the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine Fund here, and follow the work on Twitter #CCGEF

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Single Moms Success Cohort Launches Four Pilot Programs

Last week, representatives from each of the four community colleges—Ivy Tech CC in Indianapolis, IN; Monroe CC in Rochester, NY; Delgado CC in New Orleans, LA; and Central New Mexico CC in Albuquerque, NM—in the Lab’s Single Moms Success initiative (SMS) cohort gathered virtually to celebrate the official launch of their pilot programs this fall. Team members discussed learnings, challenges and triumphs they’ve encountered over the past two years of pilot design and implementation, and impact they’re already seeing from early pilot roll out. 

As Dr. Mia Johnson, Chancellor for the Ivy Tech’s Anderson campus and design team lead shared, “Already our entire community has started paying attention to our single mother learners and their needs. Our single mother learners feel more comfortable asking their faculty and staff for assistance. Our employees are more aware of the unique needs of our students and how to help them. Our external stakeholders are asking how they can help in making our students more successful. The momentum around this work is incredible.”

 

During the convening, Single Moms Success cohort team members shared out one word or phrase to describe how their pilot programs will impact single moms in their communities.

 

Despite making up 11% of all undergraduate students, single mother learners are rarely the focus of educational programming. Only 28% of single mother learners earn a degree or credential within six years, but each additional level of education they complete decreases their chances of living in poverty by 32%.

Aiming to dramatically increase degree and credential attainment rates for single mother learners at each institution, the four pilots share a focus on holistic support of single mother learners while responding to local experiences, goals, and needs of single moms and their families. Throughout the pilot design process, teams have focused on how they can strongly support single mother learners’ sense of growth, belonging, and agency as key drivers of engagement while also ensuring their pilots are doable, measurable, sustainable, and scalable. 

“When I think about this project specifically, I think about reimagination – really being able to reimagine what student supports look like for single moms and for student parents broadly speaking, knowing that higher education was not designed for single mothers. We need to be really intentional about meeting single moms where they are now, in light of everything that is happening, as we know the COVID pandemic has really exacerbated those inequities,” ECMC Foundation Program Officer Rosario Torres said during the gathering. 

As more learners continue to engage with the Single Moms Success pilot programs, we look forward to sharing more stories and learnings from the field. Learn more about our Single Moms Success initiative here.

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Education Design Lab Launches Collaborative to Give Job-Seekers Credit for Lived Experience

Aimed at providing credentials for 21st century skills gained from work and life, Education Design Lab’s new experience credit, or “XCredit,” provides a scalable way to help millions of learners and earners seeking higher wages and a meaningful career.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 21, 2021) — Today, national innovators Education Design Lab announced the launch of their new XCredit initiative, aimed at offering new ways of assessing and credentialing the informal learning of transitioning military members, veterans, and unemployed and underemployed job-seeking civilians. With unemployment still higher than it was pre-pandemic, the widespread displacement of workers, and the sudden disruption to education that is impacting all learners, XCredit provides an opportunity to completely reimagine the concept of prior learning assessment (PLA), making it scalable, automated, and objective so that individuals have access to a simple way to validate their existing skills.

“This is the next and most important frontier in the drive to break down the systemic barriers to economic mobility. It is now more important than ever to capture and validate individuals’ existing skills. This helps level the playing field, providing people with the opportunity to pursue in-demand jobs that track toward median wage earnings, while simultaneously filling high-demand job roles in the market,” said Kathleen deLaski, founder of Education Design Lab. “Not having a college degree should not be a barrier to a professional career if a veteran, an essential worker, a single mom can demonstrate or transfer skills from their jobs and their lives.”

The first year of this 3-year initiative focuses on a specific military use case demonstrating how the education-to-workforce ecosystem can work together to support the learner-earner. Learning that happens on the job and in everyday life cultivates crucial 21st century skills that can be as valuable as those signaled by industry- recognized certifications and degrees, yet these experiences go largely unrecognized by educational institutions and employers.

“As part of our country’s economic recovery, it is critical to provide accessible pathways to higher wages and jobs for as many individuals as possible,” said Dr. Tara Laughlin, Education Designer and Micro-Credentialing Project Manager, Education Design Lab. “To do this, we need scalable, automated assessments and an ecosystem of tools seamlessly sharing data to make learners’ skills visible and shareable, while also providing the learner with ownership over their own records — XCredit will do just that.”

Supported by Walmart, the Lab’s XCredit project will design, test and pilot two approaches to assessing and validating these skills. The first approach is through skill assessments, experiential assessments that allow an individual to showcase the skills they have gained. The second is through skill artifacts that act as credible, real world evidence of skills. When combined, these two approaches will help learner-earners seeking better job and career outcomes to leverage the skills they already have, giving value and respect to their lived experiences. Once learners’ skills are validated by either of these two approaches, the third key piece of XCredit is establishing an interoperable ecosystem, which will enable seamless sharing of data to make learners’ skills visible and shareable.

“Translating real-world experiences into credentials can open up so many new doors for people,” said Sean Murphy, senior manager at Walmart.org. “XCredit has the potential to unlock new career paths for job seekers and expand talent pools for employers, and we’re proud to support this good work.”

With support from SOLID, the Lab will design and demonstrate a skills ecosystem using a shared data language to support the translation of 21st century skills gained during military service as it relates to civilian jobs. The ecosystem will also help learners view and begin validating their existing 21st century skills and identifying gaps through multiple technologies: SOLID’s MilGears: a military career planning platform; Matrix: a learning management platform serving as a central Lab “hub”; Muzzy Lane and Talespin: two skill assessment platforms; Credly: a digital badging platform; and MyHub: a platform providing a “digital wallet.”

Learn more about the XCredit program here.

The read the full press release on PR Newswire.
projects

XCredit

Validating a learner’s life and working experiences as currency for future opportunities.

XCredit blog: Get the most up-to-date information about XCredit.

Overview

The Education Design Lab developed the concept of an employer-validated “XCredit,” or Experience Credit, which signals to employers the skills attained informally on the job or in life. In the XCredit project, the Lab will design, test and pilot two approaches to assessing and validating these skills:

Skill Assessments:

Experiential assessments that allow an individual to showcase the skills they have gained.

For example, to demonstrate their active listening skills, learners might participate in a virtual reality simulation in which they gather client feedback after an event. The Lab is currently piloting a set of performance-based assessments and digital credentials for six durable skills and their corresponding sub-competencies.

Skill Artifacts

Real world evidence of soft skills that can serve as a proxy for more formal credentials.

For example, an Uber driver’s performance score, a waitress’s tip percentage average, or a military cook’s record of success with large machine maintenance can be excellent signals for customer service, oral communication, or project management skills.

Taken together, these two approaches will help learner-earners seeking better job and career outcomes to leverage the skills they already have, giving value and respect to their lived experiences.

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BRIDGES Design Insights

Part 1: Understanding the Potential of Rural Community College Learners

The Lab’s new Design Insights publication series offers a glimpse into our human-centered design approach to make learning visible, portable, affordable, flexible, and relevant for New Majority Learners.

In this first brief, we share insights from initiatives led and supported by the Lab and introduce our BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge that makes the case for greater investment in rural community colleges. Funded by Ascendium Education Group, we launched this multi-year project in April 2020 to answer this question: How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? 

With this design question in mind, this brief explores key barriers and opportunities in rural communities and offers early insights from the project that will be used to inform the development of new models for rural colleges. We explain how our approach, based in human-centered design, will build the capacity of rural community colleges to respond to their regional labor markets and enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.

The brief offers five key insights that were collected by the BRIDGES team and gathered from interviews and surveys of more than 500 rural community members to help shape our understanding of rural places and their diverse communities:

  1. Rural communities demonstrate a deep commitment to place
  2. Experiences of belonging vary within rural communities
  3. Rural communities benefit from understanding their constituents
  4. Education may be seen as a value and a threat in rural communities
  5. Future efforts should be built from the strengths of rural communities – with rural community colleges at the center

From these design insights, we highlight opportunities noted by the colleges and their community members as they formulate models to prototype and pilot. Through our BRIDGES Rural work, we are deepening our understanding of rural places and people, using and building on their assets to develop innovations that address their unique goals and needs, and catalyzing economic opportunities to improve outcomes for rural learners and their communities.

Learn more and download the full brief here

Want to stay up to date with our BRIDGES Rural work? Follow us on Twitter @BridgesRural for frequent share-outs of our BRIDGES learnings and @eddesignlab for general Lab updates and opportunities to connect!