Far too many Americans are not reaching their full potential, which is reflected in the fact that about half the U.S. workforce, 53 million workers, do not earn a living wage and the fact that 70 percent of Americans are considering leaving their jobs.
To help more people find meaningful work that connects with their interests and aptitudes, educators, employers, and the philanthropic community must create affordable, flexible learning pathways that people can access while still working.
When these programs exist, workers find new purpose — and, according to a new analysis by University of Virginia researchers and Merit America, raise their wages too.
Merit America’s no upfront cost program helps workers self-actualize
Merit America is a national nonprofit whose mission is to prepare workers who are stuck in low-wage roles for new career opportunities. The organization looks for individuals like Justine Washington who are motivated to improve their own lives and the lives of others through meaningful work.
Washington completed a Merit America program and was quickly hired as a lab technician. “I didn’t give up. I persevered. I pushed through, got my certificate, and got the job,” Washington said. “And now I have a job where I don’t hate Mondays. I actually love Mondays because I get to drive to a job that I absolutely love.”
After completing Merit America’s program, Washington’s annual earnings increased $38,000.
For people like Washington who must work to support their families, enrolling in a traditional four-year degree program often takes too much time or is too expensive. Many full-time bootcamp programs also are not flexible enough to fit a person’s busy schedule and online courses do not always turn time spent learning into self-discovery, real skills, or higher wages.
Merit America combines technical training from industry-recognized partners with best-in-class coaching and peer support. Its fast, flexible programs prepare workers to start careers in a range of tech jobs, including IT support. Merit America also drives change by:
- Partnering with institutions who serve low-income workers to efficiently recruit workers for their programs;
- Combining tech and touch to create the best learning experiences at low per-student costs;
- Working with employers like Amazon and IBM to connect them to newly-trained talent; and
- Collaborating with partners like the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), Social Finance, and the Google Career Certificates Fund to provide learning opportunities at an accessible and affordable cost.
The program equips workers with the skills needed to do a job — and the fulfillment that comes with meaningful work and the confidence to succeed.
There are no upfront costs for the learner, and for some courses, program participants are only required to make payments toward the cost of the program once they secure a job that offers a salary of $40,000 or more.
Merit America has served more than 7,500 workers since its founding in 2018, and according to a new analysis, its results are astounding.
Contribution minded workers find new meaning in work, and higher wages
Researchers Ben Castleman and Kelli Bird at the University of Virginia found workers who complete Merit America’s program doubled their salaries almost immediately after completing the program. The analysis examined data, including paystubs, offer letters, and self-reported data, from the first 3,000 Merit America program completers.
Before engaging with Merit America, these workers earned an average of $26,000 annually and after completing the program, alumni reported an average annual salary of $50,000 at least three or more months post-program.
“Our mission at Merit America is to break down the barriers that keep talented, historically marginalized candidates from reaching high-paying careers,” said Rebecca Taber Staehelin, co-founder and co-CEO of Merit America. “It should never be too hard or too late to start a new career, and we need more options to get ahead than a traditional four-year degree. These strong outcomes show that fast, flexible, and affordable pathways work.”
Alum Corey told Merit America, “Programs like Merit America give people with great minds a chance to pursue their dreams. To any Merit America learner, know that you’re in the right place.”
“At Merit America, we’ve worked closely with our learners and employer partners to create a scalable bridge from the grind of low-wage work to upwardly-mobile careers,” said Merit American co-founder and co-CEO,Connor Diemand-Yauman. “These results validate our commitment to providing learners with the tools, support, and skills needed to overcome systemic barriers.”
In addition to significant wage increases, Merit America reported that 80 percent of participants completed their programs in the analysis time frame, at a time when the current national six-year completion rate for community college is just 42 percent.
“This study shows that lives change when people can access dynamic, flexible learning programs aligned with their interests and aptitudes,” said CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “We need more creative, bottom-up solutions like Merit America that give workers the tools they need to discover their purpose in new careers they love.”