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How to Get a College Education Without Paying for a Degree

Businesses are increasingly offering their own credentialing programs, creating a kind of “alternative education system” for people who want better job opportunities but don’t have a conventional college education.

This is great news. Only 30% of Americans have a college degree, yet more and more jobs require some kind of college-level training. The more opportunities that people have to get the skills they need to access better jobs, the more everyone benefits.  

The question is: what kinds of certificates best support students? What kinds of programs help people — especially people who are often locked out of higher education — achieve their goals?

Career Training That Works

New research has come in from Google — which started its own certificate program, for its own technology — showing the best practices they’ve found.  

Once again, we’re thrilled, but not surprised, to see how much these new findings support The Calbright Model.

According to a recent interview with The Strada Education Network, here are the best practices for career certificates that Google has found:

Meet learners where they are.

The best program in the world is no good if it’s inaccessible. You have to offer programs that your target populations can access. For Google, that’s actually meant collaborating with institutions like community colleges.  For Calbright, that means studying the barriers to college and overcoming them. 

It means being currently free; it means having a simple application process where we say “yes” rather than make students jump through hoops; it means letting students set their own pace and schedules and access their class materials whenever, and wherever, is good for them. It means talking with our students so we know their struggles personally, and finding ways to help.

Engage employers in the curriculum-creation process.

Calbright conducts extensive research with industry leaders and hiring managers to find out what skills they’re looking for and how they know an employee has them. But we also conduct extensive interviews with employees to ask them: what skills helped you be successful at this company? What do you wish you’d known before you started working? What’s essential for success in your job, not on paper but in daily life? We want our students to be ready for success at the moment they’re hired.

Tap into local and regional changemakers already devoted to solving the workforce challenge.

At Calbright, we partner with other community colleges, regional Workforce Development Boards, labor unions, and research groups dedicated to learning more about successful online education. Collaboration creates the opportunity to  help more students and offer better support.

We’re excited to see that the work we do is supported by the newest research about online learning and career support.  It’s particularly important that there be a public option for education that is committed to offering the best support possible to the people who have traditionally been the least likely to get it.  

A Public Option for Education

These questions matter deeply to us at Calbright: our mission is to provide a “public option” to attain these kinds of industry-valued certificates, to reach the populations who traditionally have trouble accessing higher education and to help support their careers. So we need to know: what are the best ways to design these programs?

Recent studies have shown that the best career certificates are those that:

  • Are offered by a public institution (especially community colleges);
  • Are focused on technology or healthcare; 
  • Can be completed relatively quickly; and
  • Are certificates employers care for.

That’s us! We’re a public community college that offers certificate programs in the technology and healthcare industries that can be completed in a relatively short time. Plus, right now we’re also currently free for Californians.

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