Jobs for the Future (JFF), a Boston-based nonprofit focused on equitable economic advancement via education and the workforce, has announced a partnership with the University of Phoenix Career Institute to bridge the gaps Black learners and workers face when it comes to advancing their careers. 

According to the announcement, made public on Feb. 22, University of Phoenix will fund JFF to study social capital development in educational and work settings and research current strategies in place. With this data, the nonprofit hopes to raise awareness around the issue and create an evidence-backed, actionable system to develop it. 

A Focus on Research-Backed Equity Strategies

Professional social capital is the network of relationships that help people start and advance toward their education and career goals, and is a key part of building racial equity in the workplace, according to JFF. 

The strategies JFF plans to develop in conjunction with the University of Phoenix, a private for-profit university with 83,000 students headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz.,  are meant to help Black learners and workers form stronger professional networks, cultivate mentorships and increase access to career tools. The nonprofit hopes for individual-by-individual results that include equal employment and career progression.

JFF is also creating an advisory council, including Black learners and workers, to offer their perspectives on the process and the resulting framework and contribute their thoughts on best practices for sharing the research findings with communities. 

“We were inspired to start solving for this issue after our 2021 Career Optimism Index study found that nearly half of American workers do not have someone in their professional life who advocates for them,” said John Woods, provost and chief academic officer for the University of Phoenix and executive director for the University of Phoenix Career Institute, in a press release statement.

“And despite recent gains in attainment, far too few Black workers are able to fully leverage the economic power that comes from completing a postsecondary credential. This is a challenge we are closely tracking as we develop the 2022 Career Optimism Index, and we look forward to working with JFF to address this disparity head-on.”

University of Phoenix established the Career Institute in 2021, citing a need to address barriers Americans face when it comes to career advancement. That same year, it published its first comprehensive study on career perceptions, sentiments and barriers in the American workplace. The study also outlined the resources necessary to overcome those obstacles. 

“Black learners have made extraordinary strides in postsecondary enrollment and completion," said Michael Collins, JFF vice president, in a press release statement. "Yet, a disproportionate number of people do not have access to networks and relationships that help make connections to professional opportunities, explore interests and assess career options — in other words, professional social capital."

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Career Development in the Remote or Hybrid Workplace

Strategic Partnership Arises Amid Controversy

News on this partnership comes on the heels of less than savory headlines for the University. The for-profit school has made the news for a slate of accusations, including allegedly taking advantage of veterans. The University of Phoenix agreed to a $191 million settlement with the FTC after allegations that it was luring students in with false advertising.

To date, thousands of veterans have spent their education benefits on for-profit colleges. "Unfortunately, the target has been on the back of veterans because of some unfortunate loopholes in federal law," Chris Madaio, vice president for legal affairs at Veterans Education Success, told ABC 15 Arizona. 

The University of Phoenix also recently named George A. Burnett as the institute's new president. Previously, Burnett served as CEO of Alta College, Inc., which owned Westwood College, a for-profit institution with more than a dozen campuses in five different states. 

During Burnett's tenure at Alta, the U.S. Department of Education denounced Westwood College, claiming it took advantage of its students. The government found that the college made widespread misrepresentations about transfer credits and post-graduation job placement.

Westwood College settled for $4.5 million with the state of Colorado for deceptive marketing, along with $7 million to the U.S. Department of Justice due to false claims for federal student aid. The institution shut its doors permanently in 2015.

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