By Angela (Ceresnie) Prince, former Climb CEO
Climb’s focus has always been career advancement — something we call the Career Transformation Process. This is the process of: (1) determining you are interested in or need a new career or additional skills; (2) determining what that new career/skill set might be; and (3) getting the appropriate credentials and training to achieve these goals.
Over the past five years, our focus has almost entirely been on that third stage — helping people who know what they want achieve their goals through career training programs that impart specific skills and/or certifications efficiently and effectively. What we’ve learned in our work is that there are a huge number of programs offering this type of training, and they can make a massive difference in someone’s earning potential.
Unfortunately, due to negative coverage of certain programs that fail to live up to their stated mission, or to the shortcomings of our traditional higher education system, the successes of many student-centric career and skills-training programs are often missed by media and policymakers. While the negative scrutiny can be warranted, the cost is that effective training programs — which are undoubtedly part of the solution — are often overlooked,
With respect to traditional education, a typical bachelor’s degree will have you learning a broad range of subjects, with the ultimate goal of leading you on along the path to your true calling and allowing you to exit with a degree and focus on what you want to do with your life.
Regrettably, this is often not the reality. While traditional undergraduate programs may be wide-ranging in the disciplines they cover, most people still don’t know what they want to do when they finish and often require further career exploration or education to attain the skills required in a modern and increasingly specialized economy. In fact, 41% of college graduates end up working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, and it’s likely that many of them could have determined which career path was right for them through less costly means of career exploration. And this is only the case for those who graduate — which is just 60%.
For those focused on exploring what is possible (as opposed to pursuing specific skills or job training), there are a wide variety of alternative programs out there that can give learners exposure to new topics or career areas, and that do so in a more condensed and targeted way. This can be valuable to those who are exploring new areas while working a job — and these programs can be distinct from those built to offer direct job placement or career and income advancement.
Since there is incredible value in helping individuals better understand a subject or career path, we’ve long been interested in how we can provide access to these types of programs — and in determining the place education with a focus on career exploration (as opposed to career advancement) has. The key is ensuring learners have the right goals and expectations when choosing such a career exploration program.
Careers are so much more than just salaries. 1/3 of our lives are spent at work — and we’ve heard directly from our conversations with our learners and (of course!) our own experiences in the educational system that the decision to take a course is not always or only about making more money, but often about expanding one’s knowledge, learning a new skill or subject, or deciding if a career change is the right next step. This is one of the reasons we offer our own employees an annual education benefit to explore a new skill, regardless of its relevance to their current role.
While most of the learners we’ve supported to date have attended programs in order to gain a step up in earning potential, that money was not the only value of those programs. What is key in supporting programs that are exploratory in nature, however, is that the learner understands the purpose of this education and understands that it may not lead to a monetary ROI.
Whether that means escaping an office job like Elliot, gaining more teaching skills to be better for your students like Ivey, or moving to a type of work that gives you more satisfaction and personal empowerment like Christy, Luis, and Kyle.
This is why career exploration courses are absolutely aligned with our mission of promoting learner interests because they play an important role in the career transformation journey.
That being said, we want to ensure that we’re helping people explore careers in a financially responsible way and with the right expectations.
Why we’ve chosen a $5k cutoff:
From a mission standpoint, we want to make sure the costs of exploratory courses are reasonable for someone just starting their career and making minimum wage. While this may not always be the case for students attending these programs, career exploration should be accessible both to younger people and to entry-level workers. With that in mind, we calculated an expected monthly payment on a three-year loan with our standard interest and fees and compared it to the monthly federal minimum wage. The resulting debt-to-income percentage at $5,000 would be an average of 13.5% (under our 15% debt-to-income ratio preference from a financially-responsible standpoint).
When thinking about education in terms of return-on-investment alone, it’s difficult to quantify what career exploration is worth. However, it’s undeniable that people should have the ability to attend programs that may provide benefits beyond direct career and income advancement. To do this responsibly, however, we use the $5K cutoff in order to ensure affordability — and we explicitly separate these exploration programs from those that are intended to drive an ROI, to help create proper learner expectations. We want to be sure learners know and understand what they are buying and are confident in making that choice.