Eduventures recently attended the 2015 Tyton Education Summit in New York, which brought together a diverse group of education investors, edtech companies, policymakers, and leaders in P-12 and higher education. The overarching theme of the conference was “scaling innovation,” which covered topics ranging from education as the catalyst for innovation to innovation as an unfunded mandate. Throughout these conversations, one sub-theme continued to bubble up: what are employers going to do to help innovate in education?

Several questions regarding the potential for employers to work better with colleges were raised:

  • Should innovation be driven by employer demand (as well as by their investors’ demand)? What would the impact be on the supply of graduates from programs?
  • How can corporate partners provide funding to higher education institutions to fill budget gaps that might otherwise lead to cost-cutting measures and negatively impact student outcomes?
  • What data assets and connections are employers missing to not only match graduates with jobs, but also track graduates and create a feedback loop for colleges and universities?
  • Will competency-based education with outcomes co-developed by employers and higher education leaders be the link that is needed to directly connect the two?

While these questions may not be new, the conversations focused on new models and approaches that had either already reached a significant number of students or had the potential to do so in the coming years. Some examples include:

  • Jim Deters, CEO of Galvanize, discussed the urban college model he has built completely outside the higher education system to train software engineers and data scientists. As a newly accredited, for-credit provider, Galvanize will now compete with colleges and universities. It is bringing an agile software development mindset to curriculum development with the expectation that curriculum will shift regularly to meet changing industry needs. For example, partnerships with IBM and others drive part of the curriculum to provide teaching and mentoring and create prospective employees whose skills align with jobs being developed within these organizations.
    Bottom Line: This model provides a direct link to smooth the transition to employment and align outcomes with the needs of employers.
  • Tom Davidson, CEO of Everfi, shared how he is leveraging corporations in a very interesting way. Everfi provides training for students in financial literacy, digital literacy, alcohol awareness, and sexual assault prevention. It has partnerships with over 1,000 corporations, including the NBA and NHL, which provide financial backing for his product and a channel to reach more students. While over 500 colleges and universities license his product, corporations, mostly local, provide the capital, because they see the value in educating students in these different areas.
    Bottom Line: This model provides a funding stream that allows employers to directly impact local colleges and provide graduates with key life skills.
  • Kristen Hamilton, CEO of Koru, discussed how she is helping colleges match students more effectively with employers. Koru is an experiential business training program that teaches college grads relevant skills. Partnering with colleges from Amherst College to Georgetown University and corporations from LinkedIn to Zillow, Koru offers a more efficient path to get from graduation to the “right job.” Ultimately, this platform will create a compelling data set to show why grit, rigor, teamwork, and impact (among other skills), may matter more to employers than grades and internships.
    Bottom Line: This model offers new data streams to demonstrate employer-desired skills and direct paths from graduations to the workforce.

Each of these companies presents an interesting model and provides a unique approach to skills training to prepare graduates for the workforce. The question remains: what will the impact of these alternatives be on more traditional models at colleges and universities?

Media attention on and successful employer outcomes from these new models will further legitimize and accelerate the adoption of competency-based education (CBE) as a means of incorporating similar ideas into mainstream higher education. CBE will allow pockets of innovation to drive this change as it provides employers with a stronger voice in the conversation to shape the skills that they are seeking for college graduates. The ultimate impact will be to deliver the demonstrated outcomes that many parents, students, and legislators are demanding.

While these models present exciting innovations in employer partnerships, several voices at the Summit reminded attendees that mass adoption (a.k.a. scaling innovation) has yet to take hold across higher education:

  • Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, mentioned that the signals of what employers want exist in the labor data, but that they are not being listened to or understood by many colleges and universities.
  • Jean Martin, Executive Director and Talent Solutions Architect at CEB, shared that transformative practices exist on the leading edge, but the majority of higher education is not even following best practices.
  • Paul Basile, CEO of Matchpoint Education, explained that predictive science exists to measure cognitive ability, competencies, and preferences, but that we need to help students understand their strengths and study the right skills to find the right career.

In tracking many of the employer-institution partnerships across the market, Eduventures believes that  enhanced engagement between employers and higher education is well underway. While these partnerships are not new, the scale and depth of connections will need to increase. Technology adoption, data integration, and proven models exist to drive the necessary expansion and meet employer demand for outcomes. Nonetheless, the next step is for a sufficient number of colleges and universities to adopt these models to have an industry-wide impact.