Unlocking New Pathways Through Training Programs

Partnerships between employers, higher ed institutions and third-party training programs may be the answer to economic advancement and employment shortages.

By: Craig Sprinkle

With the recent media coverage about the cost of education, ballooning student debt and dwindling college enrollment, it’s a good time to consider other pathways to college and well-paying careers. Many underutilized programs combine career training, employers and colleges that could aid the upward mobility of the under-employed and a wide range of people for whom college has been unattainable.

By partnering with third-party training providers, colleges have quickly added to their portfolio of courses. Often, this is in direct response to employer demand, a trend we are seeing develop in healthcare right now. 

There is a shortage of people qualified to fill the thousands of openings for allied healthcare jobs and colleges recognize this. Using third-party training providers, colleges are offering training in allied healthcare jobs such as medical assistants. Then, those newly certified medical assistants are already on a path to a higher-paying, in-demand career such as nursing, which is offered by these colleges.

Picking the Path

Not all pathways into well-paying careers travel straight from college to four-year institutions of higher education. But many do combine higher education, businesses and training providers while offering terrific earning potential for individuals who did not or could not choose a four-year university education. 

Many of these pathways start with college extension. College extension programs historically were one of those alternative pathways designed to give people who were not officially enrolled in the college the chance to benefit from the institution’s brain trust. 

These non-traditional learners could pay by the unit to take individual courses or to pursue a certificate in, say, marketing or project management, without enrolling as full-time students or earning bachelor’s degrees. For most of these extension programs, a series of courses were taught by one of the college’s professors, then were bundled together into a certificate, backed by the institution’s strong brand and reputation.

Extension programs have expanded dramatically in recent years driven partly by the realization that they served an audience who was not currently enrolled at the institution. Yet, once that audience started taking extension courses, they became prime candidates for full-time enrollment. After all, a significant hurdle for any recruitment effort is to simply get students over the threshold. College extension not only walks the students through the door but also brings them directly to the table. 

The student, who perhaps never envisioned a life including a college education, is progressing down the path to an LVN or RN because the extension courses where they started gave them credits for college. Suddenly, that college degree is attainable, and their life changes.

How Training Programs Work

Learners don’t have to take that training at an institution either. Today, an individual — in high school, already graduated, mid-career or retired — can enroll in a healthcare training program. They can take and pass the certification exam for that career and, simultaneously, earn college credit toward a bachelor’s degree at multiple universities. Universities that just so happen to offer nursing degrees.

This model is like the Advanced Placement program for high school students: high-rigor high school courses that, if students pass the exam with a specific score, earn college credits. It is not unusual for a student who passes one, two, three or more AP exams to begin college right after high school. Earning one or two semesters’ worth of college credit directly from AP offers the student significant cost savings in terms of college tuition. 

When you add in an employer ready to hire the graduate or even pay for tuition, there is potential to make even more substantial inroads into the underemployment crisis by reaching students facing significant financial need. Dozens of employers will pay for training while promising students a career upon completion of that training. Workforce development grants, such as those provided by New York or the federal government, can also pay for training. With zero cost to the student, they can get trained in a stepping-stone job and earn college credit at the same time. 

Across-the-Board Solutions

These training programs are equally as significant as the AP model is, perhaps even more so, because of the audience it serves. The underserved and non-traditional student has a very difficult time earning a college degree to improve their career options and earning power. These partnerships are an answer to the problem: a low-cost or no-cost pathway to a four-year college degree. The model is sustainable, scalable and replicable on a broad scale. 

We do have the capacity in this country to get people into terrific jobs and a college degree at the same time. Let’s push these programs into overdrive and give individuals a different pathway to college. Along the way, we might just solve the enrollment crisis and student debt crisis for colleges and universities, the under-employment crisis for motivated and capable students and the job vacancy crisis for employers, too.

Craig Sprinkle

Craig Sprinkle


Craig Sprinkle is the CEO of MedCerts.

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