Many pundits, scholars, academics and lawmakers believe that the current education system is fraught with challenges that have to be addressed and resolved for our country and future generations to thrive. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, for one, recently unveiled a new tuition-free pilot program in New York State that attempts to forge a new way.
To most, it’s become clear that our current system is no longer affordable, accessible or sustainable to a growing majority of young people who will become our next workforce.
Interested in learning more about new models that effectively address our higher education challenges, I was excited to catch up with Adam Braun. Adam is the CEO & Co-Founder of MissionU, a college alternative for the 21st century that trains students for the jobs of today and tomorrow debt-free. A New York Times bestselling author, Adam previously founded Pencils of Promise, an award-winning nonprofit that has built more than 400 schools around the world.
Adam’s MissionU vision aims to proactively address the key challenges that prevent our current model from adequately and affordably building the skills required to thrive in the workforce of today and tomorrow.
Adam shares his vision of MissionU below:
Kathy Caprino: Adam, why do you feel higher education is broken today?
Adam Braun: There are two major issues with the current state of higher education. The first is that students are leaving college without the necessary skills to land a job or thrive in their careers. And the second is that, whether or not students obtain a degree (only 18% of those who enter a bachelor degree program will graduate on time four years later), they are leaving college with insurmountable, crippling debt. There are 31 million Americans with some college credit and no degree , and the average borrower is leaving school with more than $37,000 in debt that will take on average 21 years to pay off, with high interest rates that can ultimately double the total payment. Most people don’t realize this, but student debt is the only debt in the United States that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy, so it’s with you and your family for life.
This issue became personal for me when I met my wife, who was struggling with over $100,000 in student debt and no bachelor’s degree (she had to leave college due to the financial hardship). The burden of her debt impacted every decision and aspect of her life.
When you look at the data it’s clear that the traditional belief of college as the pathway to securing a successful career is no longer the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as students are cast into job applicant pools with little to no valuable work experience, and none of the hard and soft skills that are most important to today’s employers. Education should not be a one-size-fits-all approach and students deserve options that will set them up for success without crippling them in debt.
The current system isn’t effectively addressing either of these issues, which is why we created MissionU, a one-year college alternative that prepares you for the jobs of today and tomorrow, debt-free. The way we've structured the institution ensures we are deeply investing in student outcomes from the start, and that we are held accountable to students graduating from the program with the skills and experience necessary to enter today’s most in-demand fields.
Caprino: What about MissionU is a direct response to those issues?
Braun: MissionU is a one-year college alternative for the 21st century that prepares students for the jobs of today and tomorrow debt free. We charge no upfront tuition, instead investing in our students for a full year with an income-share agreement where students pay 15% of their salary for three years, but only once they’ve landed a job paying at least $50,000 (there’s also a cap to the total payments if their salary exceeds $100,000 on average). We want to invest in our students and be jointly accountable for their long-term success, which is not the case with the current model of higher education.
MissionU has developed a skills and career-focused curriculum. We partner with top companies including Spotify, Warby Parker, Lyft, Uber, Harry’s, and others that advise us on our curriculum so that we’re teaching students the combination of hard and soft skills necessary to succeed in high-growth industries. They then allow MissionU students to apply for open roles at their companies and gain preferred access to our top graduates.
Caprino: Tell us about the first attempt at building a curriculum that address the most needed jobs, and how your pilot test will work.
Braun: Our first cohort will launch in San Francisco in September, and the first major we're offering is in Data Analytics + Business Intelligence. It's a space where there are great salaries, meaningful work and enormous hiring demand.
We've now spoken with hundreds of companies and hiring managers in particular are really excited about MissionU's model because it directly solves for a growing skills gap that employers are seeing. A 2016 study showed that 74% of undergraduates felt their universities failed to prepare them for the professional world. The best way to solve for this is to enable industry leaders to calibrate our curriculum, and companies are excited about a model that's directly aligned with the skills they are looking for in new hires.
Caprino: This model sounds powerful, but how can we change the broader perceptions of the need for a 4-year bachelor’s degree, to be hired into the thousands upon thousands of organizations that require it?
Braun: The change in beliefs is already rapidly happening as companies like Ernst & Young, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Google and others are removing the degree requirements because they don't connect to increased job performance.
The bachelor’s degree has long been positioned as the only pathway to a successful career and that desperately needs to change. The era in which you were a student from the age of 5 to 22 years old and then a full-time professional from 23 onward is over. Instead, we are now in an era of lifelong learning where every single person is going to need to invest in their continuing education to evolve with the needs of the modern economy.
There are a growing number of students we call “career-starters” who are ready to enter the workforce without four years of college and thousands of dollars in debt - they just need the right training. What needs to change is the perception that the bachelor’s degree is a student’s only option to be successful.
We can enable this by rapidly scaling programs like MissionU that are working to combat the main issues facing students today. I deeply believe that pursuing a bachelor’s degree is no longer the best option for the majority of American students, and embracing new pathways that are able to prove results and be held accountable for the success of students is essential.
Caprino: How will MissionU ensure young women as well as young men feel empowered to join the program, knowing these first areas of focus in the pilot program seems to be more male-dominated fields today?
Braun: Many of the most in-demand jobs today are in Data Analytics and Business Intelligence, which is our first MissionU major, and we're seeking to enable more opportunities for women to learn the skills necessary to succeed in these careers. Our admissions process is detailed at www.missionu.com/how and is a completely unique one because we remove SAT, GPA and other traditional considerations. Instead we evaluate future potential and team-based skills. Women historically thrive in relationship-driven and collaborative environments, and that’s exactly what MissionU fosters.
Caprino: What are the other areas you can see this model expanding to?
Braun: Our growth expectations are to expand both into new cities (all students live within 50 miles of their cohort city) as well as new majors. We’re deeply interested in a variety of locations and sectors, but ultimately it will be led by student and industry demand.
To learn more, visit www.missionu.com/partners and students can apply today at www.missionu.com/apply.
Read the original article on Forbes.