A New Approach to Postsecondary Education and Corporate Training That Serves All Learners

UVA Edge helps employers invest in the long-term career success of workers without college degrees.

Published feb. 24, 2021

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There are more than 75 million adults in the United States who graduated from high school and never earned a college degree.

Compared with college graduates, they are more likely to hold lower-wage jobs, are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and have more limited opportunities for career advancement.

It’s clear that a college degree is the best forward-looking indicator of economic advancement. Among other things, a postsecondary education offers students important foundational experiences and helps them develop enduring skills such as emotional intelligence, creative problem-solving and communication capabilities. Sometimes called “human skills,” those types of talents help people advance in their careers and make contributions to the organizations they work for.

The 75 million Americans who find themselves at a disadvantage in the labor market because they don’t have a college degree need a way to develop those and other in-demand skills. They need access to flexible postsecondary education and training programs that are built for working adults who have limited time and who may not have entered a classroom in years.

The need is more pressing now, as underserved communities deal with unemployment and long-term economic uncertainty after being disproportionately hit by the one-two punch of health care and economic crises caused by COVID-19. The country needs new approaches to postsecondary education and training to achieve an equitable economic recovery.

Stepping Up to Fulfill That Demand

JFF believes that colleges and universities have an opportunity — and perhaps an obligation — to step up and fulfill the demand for those kinds of programs. And postsecondary educators need employer partners who can help scale solutions that work.

The University of Virginia has been aware of the need for a new type of postsecondary offering for some time, seeing the issue from two perspectives: as one of the leading public university systems in the country and as one of the largest employers in the state of Virginia. UVA offers a generous employee education benefit, but that perk didn’t help many non-degreed workers, who had few learning options that enabled them to develop the skills they needed to advance in their careers.

To address that issue, the school created UVA Edge, a one-year, six-course educational program in which adults without degrees can earn 20 transferable undergraduate credits while developing the skills they need to advance and succeed. Those who complete the coursework will be prepared to take on key roles that employers often struggle to fill as their organizations grow — roles that require both technical and human skills.

The university launched UVA Edge at its flagship Charlottesville campus in January 2021, with an inaugural class of 40 students that includes UVA employees as well as members of the local community.

Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University of Virginia

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