Employers Hold Key to College Access

By Roy Vanderford- Senior Director

The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to create an earn-and-learn year that keeps connections between students and colleges. We even have a blueprint for how this could work for everyone involved—students, employers, and institutions of higher learning.

Converging needs are raising demand for a different model in which students can continue learning while also working and earning wages. Students and parents want affordability and a pause in traditional on-campus classes, and existing workers want to keep their jobs and advance while they work. Society is demanding equality in workplace education.

So, what would the new model look like? Brandon Busteed, president of Kaplan University Partners, said recently, “Instead of going to college to get a job, students will increasingly be going to a job to get a college degree.”

Busteed describes a “job-first, college included model” in which employers cover the costs of college attainment as part of the benefits package. This hiring compact goes well beyond current tuition reimbursement programs to set expectations in the onboarding process for ongoing credentials attainment, which leads to higher skills and salaries.

Community colleges and other institutions of higher education will need to be integrated and relevant as part of that compact. Apprenticeship programs and other work-and-learn models are showing the way, but students and colleges will need to elevate the status of apprenticeships in order for the approach to work.

This model may well be the only route to survival for some colleges facing the demographic challenge and diminished enrollments brought about by the current crisis. However, if we do this right, we can close skill gaps for employers, increase higher-education attainment rates, and increase salaries of workers to family-sustaining levels.

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Don’t Go Back to “Normal” College Instruction

By Rebekah Gaidis, PhD – Senior Project Consultant


Cutting-edge facilities and rich extracurricular programming draw students to college campuses, but restricted social spaces and fewer events will greet students in the fall. So, to attract students, higher ed institutions must rely more on engaging teaching integrated with improved technology. Financial incentives like tuition discounts are vital for long-term recovery, but students must feel confident in the classroom experience’s value.

Pre-COVID, many institutions were slow to embrace technology in teaching. Consequently, the rush to online learning resulted in shortcomings for spring courses. Now, colleges and universities must critically explore how technology can improve in-person and online class instruction, providing the tools that students need for employment in an uncertain economic environment.

Administrators need to improve infrastructure for online and technology-enhanced teaching. Learning Management Systems (LMS) should offer robust instructional tools, but a complex LMS is not enough. Faculty need professional development on how to use the tools.

Likewise, all faculty should thoughtfully incorporate technology in every course format. However, tech is not enough. Stunning graphics alone won’t engage students in learning. Faculty have the opportunity to think creatively and innovate the educational experience for students. Without using technology well, faculty cannot prepare students for the changing work environment.

Even if institutions go back to face-to-face instruction this fall, lessons learned in the spring can’t be forgotten. Post-COVID, traditional colleges must adapt their teaching methods and keep building a better future. 

Contact Rebekah at:





CARES Act Fast Tracks New Possibilities

By Kristopher Subler – Senior Project Consultant

With the renewed focus being placed on work-based learning, STEM education, and non-traditional models of success, employers and workforce development professionals might reflect on a famous expression from baseball great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Historically, these programs have struggled or failed to launch due to a lack of funding support. But as we’re beginning to see with the recent passage of the CARES Act, funding may become more readily available.

Potential funding from the federal government provides the opportunity to become transformative. What used to take 10 months to secure funds may now take only 10 weeks. TPMA is closely monitoring grant activity at the federal level and determining how our clients could implement it to achieve their goals.

In a time when we have to re-think how to better serve our communities and labor force, TPMA is at the forefront of crafting solutions in workforce development, education, and economic development. We’re proud to partner with solution builders like Intelitek and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Association.

To see currently available opportunities, click to follow our grants page.

Contact Kristopher at: