Nonprofit National University System launching workforce development arm
- National University System (NUS) is launching a unit dedicated to workforce development with an initial focus on banking, health care, public safety, K-12 education and community college education, according to a company release.
- The nonprofit operator — which owns National University, City University of Seattle, John F. Kennedy University and Northcentral University — is working with industry partners to create a workforce and recruiting pipeline, educate workers and articulate industry training into NUS programs.
- The unit, called Workforce Education Solutions, is meant in part to make it easier and to reduce costs for workers to upskill or attain new degrees, said Chris Graham, the unit's president, in an interview with Education Dive. It will have a staff of about 20 employees, with many focused on outreach to community and industry partners, Graham said. He plans to add more subject areas over time, including cybersecurity, which he expects to roll out in the next six months.
Colleges and universities across the country are recognizing their role in workforce development in response to an acknowledged gap between the education students get in college and the skills needed in industry. Higher ed players also see a market opportunity in working adults and employers.
Graham said Georgetown University research on undereducated workers and "opportunities to upskill them" was a major impetus behind Workforce Education Solutions. The unit is working with industry and NUS academic leaders to reduce friction for workers looking to get more education, potentially for promotions or transfers — a necessity for employers, too, as their managers retire.
NUS programs in public safety, for example, can accept credits from the police academy toward degrees, and the system's City University of Seattle is accepting American Bankers' Association training as credits toward an MBA. That reduces the overall cost and time for students, Graham said. It also reduces revenue from each student, though it could expand NUS' student base. "It's encouraging more students to go back to school," he said.
NUS is not alone in its efforts. The industry as a whole — including four-year public colleges — is becoming more sensitive to the needs of employers and workers. In a September policy paper, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said large research institutions are more and more taking on the responsibility of workforce development — long the purview of community colleges and technical programs.
NUS is not alone in seeing opportunity along with responsibility when it comes to workforce development and continuing education for employees. Purdue's online arm, Purdue Global, lists among its corporate education partners Goodyear, Lowe's, technology firm ManTech and several health care providers. More recently, Purdue Global announced a partnership with Papa John's to cover tuition costs for undergraduate and graduate degrees on the platform for the pizza chain's 20,000 corporate employees. Arizona State University Online, meanwhile, has similar partnerships with Starbucks, Uber and the NBA.
Arizona State also plans to launch a for-profit "learning-services company," which will partner with employers to offer employees access to its online programs, as well as with other research institutions, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last month. Details on the new venture are sparse, though.
Graham acknowledged the growing competition in the market and said colleges will set themselves apart by their ability to customize their offerings and build hiring pipelines to "show value" for employers. The industries and topic areas that Workforce Education Solutions is starting with are based on work NUS has done at its institutions in California.
The new unit, Graham said, has the advantage of establishing a group within NUS whose main focus is outreach and helps "connect the dots" between NUS's educational programs and employers' needs.
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