I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around higher ed.

Each week I share my latest thinking on the people and ideas reshaping the sector, alternating between my own reporting and my picks for thought-provoking and useful stories and resources out there. I also mix in some quick takes and occasional contributions from my colleagues.

This week, I report on the demise of a career-education model I thought had promise, track how a student-run intern site is evolving, and highlight readings on trends hitting higher ed and how wage inequality is eroding the “college premium.”

A promising model for work-force training goes kaput.

I did have my doubts a few years ago when I wrote about the ECMC Group’s plans for its Altierus Career College system. But “done right,” I said, it could create a “powerful new national model for postsecondary education’s role in work-force training.” Altierus seemed worth watching on the chance that this nonprofit venture, with access to ECMC’s deep pockets, might eventually give community colleges a run for their money and shake up the national landscape.

Turns out, not so much.

Not even four years after ECMC’s chief executive, Jeremy Wheaton, told me he hoped to make the colleges and their parent organization “America’s work-force partner” — enrolling tens or even hundreds of thousands by 2030 — the system is going kaput. ECMC has announced that it’s closing the three Altierus campuses, in suburban Atlanta, Houston, and Tampa, Fla., ending certificate and degree programs in fields like surgical and pharmacy tech and HVAC maintenance. It will also shutter the Altierus Training Solutions arm, which had offered on-the-job online training.

Two things I’d found especially compelling about this venture were its plans to offer educational programs at work sites and the colleges’ potential as test beds for some of the student-success experiments backed by the ECMC Foundation. But the closure means those opportunities won’t be realized.

What happened? “Nothing went wrong,” Wheaton told me when I caught up with him by phone last week. ECMC’s board had just decided that “directly operating schools was not something they wanted to continue to do,” he said. The corporation will keep pressing for creative approaches to career-focused education and programs that help people enter and advance in the work force, he said, but primarily through investments in companies and entrepreneurs operating in those sectors. Its $250-million Education Impact Fund has already committed about $90 million, and its accelerator has just accepted five new startups. ECMC will also continue to serve as a guarantor of federal student loans, the source of funding for the foundation, which will continue making grants.

Well, OK. Even taking Wheaton at his word that nothing went wrong at Altierus, formerly known as the Zenith Education Group, clearly not enough went right either.

Enrollment at the three campuses had more than doubled, from 700, since 2018. That put the system ahead of internal projections, Wheaton said, and nearly to the point of covering its operating costs. But his hope when we first spoke was to hit that goal by 2020, and I’m sure the pandemic didn’t help. I had also wondered if a community-college veteran might take the helm, but ECMC went with for-profit-college execs, including as president.

Capital spending is another question. I was legit impressed with the facilities at the suburban Atlanta campus when I visited for my “Career-Ready Education" report. But still, I actually gasped when I heard the system had spent $25 million on facilities and equipment since 2018. And Wheaton said he thought “it would have taken tens of millions more” to fully achieve the vision and have a national impact. Considering that, it’s hard to argue with the board’s decision to cut its losses and move on.

Wheaton still believes the colleges were the “right place, right time, and on the right path.” At the very least, he said, they demonstrated some workable hybrid approaches for hands-on career education at the height of Covid, as well as some models for online on-the-job training. But once the current students finish their courses, which could take 18 months, that’ll be that for those programs.

Considering the legacy of these campuses — they are all that’s left of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges — maybe some won’t be sorry to see them go. I’m actually a little disappointed myself, but hey, with a major player like ECMC planning to put so much money into other ventures — and welcoming two- and four-year colleges as partners — I’ll be watching for what does get traction.

Another pivot for a “for students, by students” internship site.

It’s been fascinating to check back in with ventures that emerged from the pandemic. Intern From Home, the site created by Brown University undergrads in the spring of 2020 to help students around the country land virtual internships when their in-person ones vaporized, continues to evolve.

A year ago, its founders thought expanding its matchmaking to include full-time jobs was the way to go. But when I spoke to one of the founders, Chuck Isgar, a few weeks ago, he told me the direction had shifted again. “The big thing we focus on is the ‘how,’” he said. With so many bigger and better-funded college-focused job sites on the market (Handshake, Way Up, Internship.com), offering advice on networking and making the most of internships, Isgar said, are “‘where we could make our biggest impact.”

Intern From Home is still pretty small — its newsletter subscribers number in the thousands — but readers are at more than 600 colleges and high schools, the latter “a market that is completely overlooked” by other sites, Isgar said. This month the site kicked off a new free service: a daily email during May with 30 seconds’ worth of job- and internship-hunting advice.

Check these out.

Here are some education-related items from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.

  • The annual Horizon report from Educause is always an interesting look at the trends hitting higher ed, and this year’s outlook highlights the digital economy, implications of more-ubiquitous online and hybrid learning, and challenges of collecting and optimizing student data. This summary, in EdSurge, offers a quick review.
  • Widening economic inequality is changing the game for many college-educated Americans, the economist Paul Krugman writes in a newsletter from The New York Times. “Even among those who make it through, a college degree is hardly a guarantee of economic success,” he notes. In the 1980s and 1990s, college paid off for graduates, he writes, but since 2000, “wage inequality has continued to rise, while the college premium has barely changed.”
  • “No metric or set of metrics will perfectly measure institutional quality,” the researchers Sandy Baum, Erica Blom, and Jason Cohn write in a report published by the Urban Institute. So how about three or four? “Relying on multiple metrics diminishes the risk of institutions manipulating their outcomes and requires satisfactory performance in more than one area, while allowing flexibility for differing programs, missions, and circumstances,” they write. (Wish I had seen this before writing last week’s newsletter, on better ways to hold colleges accountable.) The researchers’ proposal would require colleges to hit a certain threshold on at least three of four standards tied to student-loan default, student-loan repayment, program completion, and post-college earnings.
  • The rise in rent across the country is exacerbating the housing crunch in many college communities, according to this story by the Associated Press. Nationally, rents have increased 17 percent since March 2020, one economist told the AP, and the increase has been even higher in popular college towns. Chapel Hill, N.C., saw a 24-percent jump, and Tempe, Ariz., saw a 31-percent hike, the AP reports, and “in some cases, the rental increases have been exacerbated by a lack of on-campus housing.”

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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