news and events

Montana Free Press: The rural workforce is changing. Colleges are scrambling to keep up.

Education Design Lab’s state-wide micro-credential work is spotlighted in this Montana Free Press story (March 2024).

news and events

WATCH: How Education Design Lab is changing the status quo

Don Fraser, the Lab's Senior Vice President of Design + Innovation
The video crew with Luke Dowden (center left) and Don Fraser (center right).
The video crew at the Alamo Colleges District office in San Antonio, Texas.

In late summer of 2023, Don Fraser, the Lab’s Senior Vice President for Design + Innovation, traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to meet up with one of our longtime partners: Luke Dowden, the Chief Online Learning Officer and Associate Vice Chancellor of Alamo Colleges District.

The reason? A video shoot produced by Stand Together, a philanthropic group that spotlights changemakers transforming the future of work.

Now we’re thrilled to share their the 5-minute video, which spotlights how the Lab is designing education toward the future work.

You’ll see footage of Don walking around the Alamo Colleges District office building and “b-roll” with Luke around the 1:45 mark. The video is full of quoteable nuggets, but this might be our favorite:

“If we bring the people who are closest to the problem into the conversation, we have a real shot at making this world a better place for everyone.”

We’re so grateful to the Stand Together team, the video crew, and Luke Dowden, who are all pictured in the gallery above.

news and events

Higher Ed Dive: Some employers are wary of Gen Z workers. What can colleges do?

Dr. Naomi Boyer, Senior Vice president of Digital Transformation at Education Design Lab, is quoted in this February 2024 article by Higher Ed Dive.

news and events

Inside Higher Ed: The economic returns of a rural education

Dr. Leslie Daugherty, Head of Design Programs at the Education Design Lab, is quoted in this February 2024 story by Inside Higher Ed.

news and events

Getting Smart: A community micro-credentials effort connects students to local employers

A ninth-grade student explains a new algebraic concept to his classmate.

David McCool, president and CEO of Muzzy Lane, writes about the Lab’s Propel Polk! initiative in this February 2024 guest post on Getting Smart.

news and events

Op-ed: With higher education on trial, policy changes may be the only path to a winning case

A January 2024 op-ed in RealClearEducation by the Lab’s Dr. Leslie Daugherty and TJ Bliss, Chief Academic Officer at the Idaho State Board of Education.

news and events

Evolllution Q&A: Maximizing return on education with micro-pathways for workforce development

In this October 2023 Q&A with the Evolllution, Joe Thiel, Interim Deputy Commissioner for Academic, Research and Student Affairs, Montana University System, and Lisa Larson, Senior Vice President of College Transformation, Education Design Lab, discuss the career pipeline strategy higher ed needs, common challenges they face, and what it takes to get institutional buy-in.

news and events

Lee Lambert receives first Kathleen deLaski Innovator Award from Education Design Lab

Bill Hughes, Education Design Lab President + CEO (from left); Kathleen deLaski, Lab founder and board chair; and Lee Lambert, chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 13, 2023) — Education Design Lab (the Lab), a national nonprofit, has given its inaugural Kathleen deLaski Innovator Award to Lee Lambert, longtime community college leader and current chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Silicon Valley, Calif.

Lambert accepted his award during the Lab’s 10th Anniversary Celebration on Oct. 12 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.

The innovator award recognizes systemic disruptors who bring equity to the pursuit of opportunity and whose efforts show evidence of the shift toward skills-based, learn-and-earn models the Lab seeks to realize.

Lambert was selected because of his courage in elevating workforce development alongside degree programs while chancellor at Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson, Ariz. Lambert served as PCC’s chancellor from 2013 until August 2023.

In his remarks after accepting the award, Lambert said he was most proud of “putting the human being at the center of our work” and thanked his design team at Pima, including Ian Roark, Vice Chancellor of Workforce Development & Innovation; Amanda Abens, Dean of Workforce Development & Continuing Education; Dolores Duran-Cerda, Interim Chancellor; and David Doré, who is now chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

The award is named in honor of Kathleen deLaski, Education Design Lab’s founder and current board chair.

“I’m so honored to be associated with one of my favorite transformation heroes in higher ed,” said deLaski. “Lee Lambert is one of the community college world’s most effective and optimistic visionaries. He sees the future and doesn’t let tradition keep him and his team from shaping programs that meet students and employers where they are.”

Pima was one of the Lab’s earliest pioneers of micro-pathways — stackable credentials that can be flexibly achieved within less than a year that put learners both on the path to an associate degree or to immediate employment in high-demand fields.

Under Lambert’s leadership, PCC joined the first cohort of the Lab’s Community College Growth Engine initiative, designing eight employer-aligned pathways in the middle of the Covid pandemic. The result is PimaFastTrack, designed for adult learners to learn industry-recognized skills in as little as three to six months.

As PCC launched their first micro-pathways, both Lambert and deLaski realized the design process can be a gateway to greater institutional and system transformation. That insight resulted in a powerful Community College Daily op-ed they co-authored in 2021, Have we found the gateway to transform community colleges?, which has helped the Lab grow the program from nine colleges and systems to over 50 across the country, including a statewide initiative in Montana.

During Lambert’s decade of leadership. Pima was named a Top 150 community college by the Aspen Institute, earned a prestigious Bellwether Award for developmental education programs, and was just named the best university/college employer in the state in Forbes’ annual list of Best Employers To Work For in Arizona, among other recognitions.

Lambert became chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Los Altos Hills, Calif., in August 2023. Learn more about Lee Lambert.

About Education Design Lab: The Education Design Lab (the Lab) is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting learners to economic mobility. Learn more:

news and events

USA TODAY: Some parts of rural America are changing fast. Can higher education keep up?

USA Today spotlights some of the Lab’s work in Montana and Idaho in this September 2023 story, which also features our rural partners at College of Eastern Idaho and the Lab’s Dr. Leslie Daugherty.

news and events

Montana launches first-of-its-kind, statewide micro-credential development initiative

The Montana University System partners with Education Design Lab to develop and scale skills-forward, short-term credentials in high-demand fields.

SEPT. 20, 2023 – HELENA, MT – Education Design Lab (the Lab), the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE), and Montana’s public two-year colleges, today announced the launch of a new initiative to expand the college-to-career pipeline in Montana. Montana’s “Year to Career” Initiative will bring colleges, employers, learners, and local stakeholders together to collaboratively design skills-focused educational pathways to expand opportunities for Montanans and meet the state’s growing workforce needs.

“Student success, and Montana’s future, depends on innovation and fresh, new thinking to transform the way education is delivered,” Governor Greg Gianforte said. “With this new micro-credential initiative, Montana is paving the way toward greater educational and career opportunities, and a brighter future, for Montanans.”

Starting this month, 12 Montana colleges will undergo a two-year transformation to enhance their role as sustainable engines of economic growth and regional talent suppliers. With the support of the Lab, participating institutions will establish 12-20 “micro-pathways” – stackable credentials that can be flexibly achieved within less than a year – that will put learners both on the path to an associate degree or to immediate employment in high-demand fields, including information technology, allied health, construction, advanced manufacturing, and agriculture technology.

“As a regional leader in higher education, Montana is well-positioned to provide innovative options for students to achieve their goals,” said Clayton Christian, Montana Commissioner of Higher Education. “These fast-track credentials will complement the traditional degree programs at our colleges and will help students stand out in a competitive job climate while ensuring academic quality and value for employers throughout Montana.”

Despite unemployment hitting record lows in Montana, rural communities continue to struggle economically, and many low-income families lack the time and resources to invest in full-time education and training. Short-term credential pathways are high-quality, flexible, cost-effective options for educational attainment that lead both to immediate employment opportunities and continued degree progress.

“Over the past several years, the Lab has worked with colleges across the country to pioneer micro-pathways as a new way to meet the needs of the New Majority Learner, while also addressing critical workforce demands in regions from coast to coast,” said Bill Hughes, President and CEO, Education Design Lab. “Being able to work not just with the colleges, but also alongside innovative state leaders in Montana marks a major milestone in our ability to create greater economic opportunity for learners in an increasingly skills-based ecosystem. We look forward to seeing how this work can scale and inspire other states to rethink how they are creating pathways from college to career.”

This initiative is unique in that critical partners from across the state came together around the goal of designing, building, and implementing an education-to-workforce architecture that will have long term impacts and sustainability.

“As employers in a tight labor market, we need to change our thinking about finding ‘an’ employee to one of building a pipeline of future employees in Montana,” said Brian Obert, Executive Director of the Montana Business Assistance Connection, a key partner in the initiative.

Education Design Lab will provide the design framework for the Montana OCHE, the Montana University System’s (MUS) Two Year Council, and other partners identified below to design, implement, support, and leverage micro-pathways leading to liveable wage jobs. Each of the pathways will be established around high-growth industries, based on data and feedback from industry partners across the state. Further, industry leaders will be a part of the effort right from the start. The partners’ existing initiatives and efforts will align to create visible pathways along with resources and support for individuals across the state. Organizations involved in this initiative include:

  • Accelerate Montana, Rapid Retraining Program
  • Bitterroot College – UM
  • City College – MSUB
  • Dawson Community College
  • Flathead Valley Community College
  • Gallatin College – MSU
  • Great Falls College – MSU
  • Helena College – UM
  • Highlands College – Montana Tech
  • Miles Community College
  • Missoula College – UM
  • Montana Economic Development Administration (MEDA)
  • Montana Department of Labor and Industry
  • Montana Department of Commerce
  • The Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE)
  • Montana State University – Northern, College of Technical Sciences
  • Montana University System Two-Year Leadership Council
  • University of Montana – Western

Other key stakeholders invited to partner with this effort include tribal colleges, local economic development agencies, certified regional development centers, tribal economic development organizations, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana High-Tech Business Alliance, and employers throughout the state.

The Montana Micro-Pathway Opportunity will also be unique in offering the first Design Fellows program. The program will provide postsecondary institution and system leaders, government (policy) advisors, economic development, or business leaders an opportunity to observe and learn from a state community college system-wide effort as they design and implement micro-pathways. With the support of the Lab’s designers and college partners, Fellows will design a micro-pathway implementation blueprint for their state.

Montana’s “Year to Career” Initiative builds upon the success of the “Montana Future at Work” initiative, funded by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Accelerate Montana’s rapid retraining workforce development campaign, and three current Lab programs including BRIDGES Rural, Data Collaborative, and the Community College Growth Engine (CCGE). Since the launch of CCGE, the Lab has worked with 53 community colleges and systems throughout the nation to design and pilot more than 100 employer-validated micro-pathways in six sectors and over 30 occupations that connect over 8,000 new majority learners to employment in careers at or above median wage.

Initial funding for this effort has been generously provided by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Walmart, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation.


About Education Design Lab
The Education Design Lab (the Lab) is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting learners to economic mobility. Learn more:

About the Montana University System
The Montana University System (“MUS”) is the state’s system of public colleges and universities, which together serve more than 40,000 students statewide. Under the direction of the Montana Board of Regents, the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (“OCHE”) provides strategic direction and coordinates the overall structure, function, and budget of Montana’s dynamic collection of post-secondary institutions. This includes leading public research and doctoral-level institutions and comprehensive 4-year and 2-year colleges and universities.