From Confusion to Clarity in Today’s Dynamic Education and Training Marketplace
The last few years have ushered in profound disruption in the American workforce and education systems. Since the start of 2020, significant trends in higher education and Workforce Development that began years—or even decades—ago have dramatically accelerated. Suddenly, workers were not only expected to prepare for numerous job changes throughout their lifetimes but were also tasked with navigating the overnight disruption of entire industries and modes of working. Now more than ever, learners and workers must expect to continually develop new skills, navigate a digitally enabled or hybrid workplace and pursue essential lifelong learning opportunities to access and maintain family and community-sustaining jobs and careers.
In response to these changes, the education and training marketplace has exploded, with new options and solutions proliferating across the country, including public, private, in-person, online, nonprofit and for-profit institutions. Unsurprisingly, demand for these options has skyrocketed.
Despite this excitement and energy, the market still faces a central problem: How do we know which programs work? How do workers and learners, as well as employers, public workforce systems and other stakeholders know the difference between a high- and low-quality program? How do we measure quality? How do we know where to target funding and investments? These questions are particularly relevant as we work to create more equitable pathways for Black, Latinx and other learners and workers who face profound systemic barriers and are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
To put this issue in perspective, today there are almost one million unique educational programs being offered across the United States, each issuing unique credentials. As the number of postsecondary programs and options grows over the next decade, knowing what works well is more important than ever. The chaotic landscape and lack of clear information creates and perpetuates unacceptable inequities, severely limiting who can access economic advancement opportunities.
Using EQOS’s Quality Assurance Framework
Education Quality Outcomes Standards Quality Assurance Framework, recently acquired by Jobs for the Future (JFF), provides practical guidelines and measures for postsecondary education programs to report student outcomes. EQOS’s focus on outcomes puts the student at the center of quality evaluation and aligns with employer needs. The framework examines a range of near- and medium-term outcomes, including:
- Learning: Acquiring knowledge and skills is perhaps the most important feature of any consideration of quality.
- Completion: Rates of completion provide a useful measure of how individual learners fare within a given program.
- Placement: Students often cite obtaining jobs, advancing their careers or continuing higher education as key reasons for pursuing postsecondary education.
- Earnings: Financial rewards and economic mobility provide key measures of value for students in postsecondary education.
- Satisfaction: While harder to quantify, student satisfaction is an essential component of quality evaluation.
The acquisition of EQOS aligns with JFF’s five areas of focus—the key areas where we believe we can be a leading engine to drive equitable impact: creating opportunities for workers and learners, ensuring program quality and efficacy, strengthening career and education navigation, integrating learning and work, and building strong regional economies. We believe JFF’s platform will be a crucial differentiator, enabling EQOS to scale and support economic advancement for all. While many frameworks of program quality have arisen over the years, none have achieved systemic use across the industry. Why is that?
At JFF, we will refine and build upon the framework itself, making regular updates and upgrades that match new emerging learning models and regional economic needs. We will also build tools that make the EQOS framework easy to use by a range of partners including education institutions, postsecondary providers, state education and workforce systems, employers and others. Critically, we will work with partners across the field to develop policy recommendations that align data systems and incentivize the transparent sharing of data to better understand student outcomes longitudinally.
We envision carrying out this work and bringing clarity to the higher education and postsecondary education and training marketplace through three key focus areas:
First: equity-oriented, universal definitions of quality. Black, Latinx and other marginalized peoples are underrepresented in high-value credential programs that lead to high-wage careers. For instance, while more than two-thirds of all Black students are enrolled in public higher education institutions, research reveals that Black students are underrepresented in the majors that lead to higher wages and overrepresented in majors like social work and community organization, which often pay less. EQOS will provide greater transparency on the return on investment of education and training programs by disaggregating outcomes by race, income and background to inspire institutions to work toward advancing equity.
Second: data collection and reporting standards and systems. The refrain across the workforce and education ecosystem is that institutions are data rich and information poor. Education and training providers, as well as state agencies, can’t collect, aggregate and report the data necessary to determine real program efficacy. JFF will fill the gap by advocating for policies and data-sharing agreements that will bridge data silos, standardize overlapping datasets and build the data infrastructure to produce greater insights into longitudinal student outcomes, particularly around employment and earnings.
Finally: practical utilization of the EQOS framework. EQOS is only one player in this space, and while frameworks for quality assurance abound, few offer practical means of implementation. To that end, JFF will develop new tools and services that will enable a wide range of partners to integrate the EQOS standards into their systems—to collect, analyze, and report outcomes data, generate insights, calculate ROI and make information on student results widely available and useful.
The vision of EQOS is to support lifelong learning and career navigation by making trusted, objective information about education and training provider outcomes in the United States accessible and useful to all.
Author Perspective: Administrator