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The past year underscored America’s urgent need to integrate work and learning. As we emerge from the pandemic, employers need a highly trained workforce and educators need to connect learning to good jobs.
One institution—Empire State College in the State University of New York system (SUNY Empire)—is leading the way with innovative employer partnerships that help people learn, earn, and improve their lives.
Because SUNY Empire focuses on adult learners by offering competency-based degrees and credits for learning on the job or in the military, it was well-positioned to partner with employers.
So in 2019, SUNY Empire tried a new approach as part of Lumina Foundation’s All Learning Counts initiative to create new pathways to credentials and reward learning wherever it happens. “We recognized many employees gain college-level knowledge through work experiences in addition to formal training,” said Nan Travers, director of SUNY Empire’s Center for Leadership in Credentialing Learning. SUNY’s faculty review team began using competency-based frameworks to efficiently evaluate all kinds of learning.
That led to three new partnerships—with CVS Health, University of the Army (Army U), and the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB). All three programs sharpen skills while saving learners time and money:
Unique programs such as these pave the way as higher education seeks better, more systematic ways to recognize learning that occurs outside the classroom. But as Travers puts it, “this is just the first step.” With these successes in hand, SUNY Empire and a growing number of employer partners will continue to explore new approaches that help people get back on track through the power of learning.
Julie Johnson is the founder and principal of StrategyForward Advisors, a higher education policy and strategy consultancy in Washington D.C. She is the project consultant for Lumina Foundation’s All Learning Counts.
Haley Glover is the strategy director for state action and equity at Lumina Foundation, an independent foundation in Indianapolis that works for racial equity and opportunities for all to learn beyond high school. Our thanks to Nan Travers and Ashley Frank at Empire State College for their contributions to this project and this article.