Postsecondary education and workforce training is not one-size-fits-all. Increasingly, diverse education and training pathways exist outside traditional degree programs at postsecondary education institutions. These can help address the needs of nearly two-thirds of American workers without a degree, who work full time and need a route to better jobs. Merit America, a national nonprofit that prepares low-wage workers without a four-year degree for family-sustaining careers, offers a promising solution. To date, Merit America programs have a greater than 80% graduation rate, with nearly all graduates getting jobs and seeing an average wage gain of $19,000 per year.
Over the next three years, Ascendium will support Merit America in scaling its skills training and career placement programs in IT Support, Data Analytics and Java Web Development. Our $10 million investment will supplement up to $45 million dollars provided by the Google Career Certificates Fund, which was co-designed by Merit America to bring unique financing to the workforce development sector. Merit America’s ability to leverage the Google Career Certificates Fund depends on its success in raising additional funds through philanthropy to cover its operating costs. Merit America’s chief business officer, Leila Makarechi tells us, “Merit America is glad to have Ascendium as a true partner in our work from the beginning. When we announced the new $100 million Google Career Certificates Fund, we knew we'd need philanthropy to maximize its potential. Ascendium stepped up to help us fully leverage the fund.” Targeting up to 20,000 learners, Ascendium saw this as a unique opportunity to accelerate the growth and impact of Merit America’s already effective programming.
Merit America’s fully virtual, cohort-based program includes 14–21 weeks of skills and workplace training that learners can complete while working. This is followed by a job placement phase lasting up to 3 months. The program fosters change at scale through a postsecondary education and workforce training model that meets learners where they are while creating a clear path to meaningful, family-sustaining opportunities. Ascendium’s commitment to innovation and to exploring diverse pathways to and through postsecondary education and workforce training is embodied by partnerships like these in our Streamline Key Learner Transitions focus area.
Ascendium senior program officer Carolynn Lee tells us, “We couldn't be more excited about the expansion of our partnership with Merit America. During the past year, Merit America has demonstrated a deep commitment to expanding opportunity for low-wage working adults — a goal we share. Through one of Ascendium’s most significant philanthropic awards to date, we’re proud to help Merit America to reach sustainable, national scale and impact the lives of tens of thousands of low-wage workers through affordable, flexible, in-demand training leading to meaningful technology careers and increased wages.”