With the new online marketplace, community colleges hope to better compete with for-profit businesses
Community colleges are claiming the territory of online course marketplaces.
They’re about a decade behind their academic counterparts, who helped found edX in 2012, the same year startup Coursera launched its competing service, which is now worth millions.
But the leaders of a new platform called Unmudl say the time has come for community colleges to collaborate and make their workforce training programs more widely accessible by marketing them on a shared website.
This is a very different take on the traditional mission of community colleges to serve their communities – the literal and physical communities that surround their campuses.
“They want to serve in their own communities, but their markets need to go further,” says Holly Zanville, research professor and co-director of the skills, credentials and workforce policy program at George University. Washington. published a commissioned report on Unmudl. “The future of the world is not to focus on your own backyard.”
After two years of planning, Unmudl has several community college partners, a very purple brand and even a jingle who manages to make rhyme the word “disentangled” with “muddled”, “puzzle” and “together”.
Now he just needs students.
“People are using it by the hundreds, not the tens of thousands,” says Julian Alssid, head of market engagement at SocialTech.ai, the company that runs the Unmudl platform.
Courses for jobs, not for credit
Unmudl advertises its services as being for “adults” who are looking “for a better job in weeks rather than years”. Many of the more than 200 courses currently available through the platform last only a few days or even a month.
All classes offer qualifying training explicitly linked to the job. Course profiles present statistics on typical industry salaries and list companies that have hired graduates. The platform is designed to allow recruiters to contact trainers about job opportunities, or even to correspond directly with students.
Some courses are completely online, while others are designed to contain elements in person. Prices range from $ 12 for an on-demand online quality improvement course to $ 9,000 for a synchronous online software engineering education course.
“Some of these courses aren’t that cheap,” Zanville acknowledges. “The colleges didn’t want to feel defensive about it. Some of these courses are high end and valuable real estate. “
Although supported by community colleges, not all courses are eligible for credit. The report documenting Unmudl’s origins notes that “there is a significant opportunity for colleges to enter the credit-free space,” particularly among working adults who want a job, not necessarily a degree.
But the platform helps community colleges think about how to use prior learning assessments to award credits if users want it, even if the course isn’t technically crediting.
“In practice, we work with the non-credit side primarily because they can respond to the industry the fastest,” says Alssid. “We fully recognize that credits are still the main part of the kingdom and explicitly show non-credit-to-credit links.”
Unmudl’s operating costs are shared between community college partners and employers who pay for access to the platform. The revenue is evenly split among the colleges that run the courses, with “15 or 20 percent” going to SocialTech.ai, Alssid says, “to keep the lights on.”
Unmudl aims to help community colleges attract learners from across the country. Until now, these institutions did not have a “national online platform” for recruiting, Alssid says, and thus have lost potential learners to for-profit colleges which “have historically done a better job than community colleges targeting students for specific jobs and careers. . “
“There is a huge opportunity to break into these markets. At the moment, they are hardly a player, ”says Alssid. “It’s an important public service.”
The benefits for learners who use Unmudl are supposed to be better jobs and pay increases. But not everyone is optimistic that the platform’s short courses are a sure-fire way to improve people’s job prospects.
Monique O. Ositelu, Senior Policy Analyst for New America who studied short term degrees, expressed “caution and concern” about the promises made by the platform. In focus groups for her research, many people who participated in short courses said their relatively short time in class did not prepare them for work as well as actual on-the-job experience.
And Ositelu says the pay scales associated with short courses can be misleading. Analysis of data from New America shows that half of adults with short-term certificates who are employed earn $ 30,000 or less per year.
Additionally, according to Ostielu, salary scales and averages can mask inequalities in how experiences and identities affect pay. For example, someone who takes a short, uncredited course to complete their bachelor’s degree will likely have a different job outcome than someone without further higher education. And women and people of color who have short-term certificates tend to earn less than men and whites.
“Within our society, these systems of inequity are so ingrained that they are automated. It takes a great deal of intentionality to make sure these equity gaps are closed, ”says Ositelu. “If you take this holistic, one-size-fits-all approach, you will only widen these equity gaps.”
Still, Unmudl executives say companies are interested in using the platform to correct inequalities by hiring people they might not otherwise be able to.
“So far, the employers we speak with consistently see this as a way to manage diversity, inclusion and equity in their businesses,” says Alssid. “For a lot of them, they don’t consistently look to the community college as a resource.”
Even though Unmudl helps workers find new and better jobs, the pay increases they receive may be fleeting.
“Very short-term programs of less than a year, they have differential effects on your income. After a while, they actually decrease, ”Ositelu says. “Not like a bachelor’s degree, where you keep gaining value.”
Unmudl may have a solution to this problem: plus Unmudl.
As Tracy Hartzler, president of Central New Mexico Community College, said in the Unmudl report: “We are definitely thinking about lifelong learning.”
As Unmudl rolls out its marketing campaign, expect this jingle to get stuck in your head.
One of the long-standing advantages that for-profit colleges have over public and nonprofit institutions is the large amount of money they can spend on advertising. Unmudl executives hope that a partnership with a broadcast company will help their platform reach millions of people who might otherwise enroll with a for-profit competitor – or not pursue higher education at all.
The television company is Evoca, a startup that operates its media services in Idaho and Phoenix. It is a beneficiary of changes in federal technology policy This will increase the number of channels that televisions can receive, allow mobile devices to receive broadcast video and make television more interactive through Internet connections.
Although most of Evoca’s offering requires a paid subscription, the company has created two free educational channels, one aimed at children and the other at adults. The latter, called Path, is intended to be a “first stop discovery mechanism” to educate viewers about career paths and relevant Unmudl training programs, says Art Seavey, director of Evoca Learn and former program manager. at the Gates Foundation.
Unmudl executives hope this kind of “advertising education” will help “people become aware of jobs they didn’t know existed,” Alssid says. And with interactive features coming to ““NextGen” television services like Evoca, it will be very easy for viewers to act on this awareness.
During a recent webinar outlining Umudl’s plans, a leader wrote a message in the chat window explaining this vision:
“Imagine a working learner sitting on the couch learning autonomous vehicles or drones and appearing on the screen: register now – no application fees… with the remote control, you click with your remote control and you are in the course! ”