Josh Carroll, veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Fullbridge completer

XBA Certificate for Veterans

August 8, 2014

Large numbers of veterans, including thousands of officers, are making the transition to life after the U.S. military. The Fullbridge Program, a non-college startup, has created a five-week training session to help them get ready for a job in business or for graduate school.

The company has also teamed up with Concordia University Chicago so the program can lead to a 15-credit graduate certificate in business fundamentals (see box). The five-course certificate will be accredited through Concordia. And students will be able to draw from their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits toward the $8,882 tuition price.

The private nonprofit Concordia will enroll the certificate’s first batch of students at its Chicago-area campus in September. It is aimed specifically at veterans, who must hold a bachelor’s degree to be admitted.

Fullbridge describes the program as a “full-time, lecture-free, hands-on immersive boot camp.”

The new certificate program moves Fullbridge closer to being a provider of traditional higher education credentials. And the shift could be a hint about where others among the growing number of non-accredited “XBA” outfits could head.

Fullbridge Concordia Graduate Certificate

Aimed at transitioning veterans

Five-week, 15-credit program

Certificate in business fundamentals

Tuition $8,882

Accredited and Post-9/11 GI Bill eligible

Located at Concordia's campus in River Forest, IL

This group includes business-oriented programs like Fullbridge as well as coding academies and other technology-themed providers. General Assembly, Koru, App Academy and Dev Bootcamp (recently purchased by Kaplan) are some of the biggest names in the space.

While the companies vary in focus and offerings, they all seek to serve as a bridge between college and career. The sessions typically last between five and 10 weeks, and are relatively expensive. Most charge fees of between $8,000 and $12,000.

The XBA group also shares the characteristic of not being college – meaning they lack accreditation and the ability to issue degrees or certificates. Fullbridge’s certificate is a rare exception, and it may actually be first among the companies to make the leap.

However, traditional institutions shouldn’t worry about Fullbridge moving onto their turf, said Richard F. O’Donnell, the company’s chief revenue officer. One reason is that the company helps get students to graduate school. And some colleges foot the bill for graduates to participate in bridge programs.

“Our clients are colleges” and employers, he said. “We’re a partner with higher education, not a competitor.”

Filling in Gaps

Peter Olson, the former CEO of Random House and a professor at Harvard University’s business school, co-founded Fullbridge in 2010 with his wife, Candice Carpenter Olson, the former CEO and founder of iVillage.

The company is not a matchmaker for its students and employers. But it does charge a fee for corporate partners. In exchange the companies get a “first look book” on students’ body of work.  It includes feedback from coaches on each student. And the book features detailed information on students’ performance on “competencies” the program requires.

Fullbridge has already begun a noncredit version of the training session for veterans.

Several groups of students have completed the program. Companies, including Oracle and John Hancock, have sponsored students with scholarships. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) also funded a scholarship, picking up all fees for a group of 10 student veterans.

Josh Carroll went through the program in January 2013, just as he was transitioning out of eight years of active duty in the Air Force, where he reached the rank of major.

Carroll, 31, holds a degree in political science from Merrimack College. He had begun a nonprofit group, called Flying Scarfs, which helps widowed Afghan women sell handmade artisanal scarves to Americans.

The experience helped him realize he had holes in his understanding of business and international trade. For example, he had no experience reading financial statements.

“We were playing a pick-up game,” he said. “It was trial by fire.”

IAVA paid for him to attend Fullbridge, even covering his travel and meals. The experience was well worth it, he said, both in the hands-on instruction he got in financial analysis and in more subtle skills for the private sector.

For example, Carroll said he had never had a job interview or worn a suit to anything but a wedding. And while he’d heard of lunch breaks, he wasn’t used to getting them.

“There is definitely a cultural gap” for some returning veterans, said Carroll.

Fullbridge students work closely with their peers as part of small teams. They also have coaches who hold M.B.A.s from selective business schools.

The feedback from instructors can help in surprising ways, Carroll said. Once, in an email, he addressed a coach as “Sir/Ma’am.”

Carroll said that’s “just what you do in the military.” Not so much in the private sector, his coach told him.

Workplace Setting

Fullbridge officials said the new certificate track will be a substantial departure from what traditional colleges offer.

“We actually mimic a workday,” said O’Donnell. “That is not an academic experience.”

Students report to an office where they start by reading emails at 9 a.m. They work on group projects and workplace simulations until 6 p.m.

“You have deadlines every two to three hours,” O’Donnell said. And Fullbridge assigns far more work than can be completed, so students learn to triage. 

Derek J. Blumke joined the company in June as the vice president for veterans and military programs. He also completed Fullbridge’s session for veterans.

After leaving the Air Force in 2005, Blumke earned an associate degree from North Central Michigan College. He later earned a bachelor’s in psychology and political science from the University of Michigan.

Blumke had plenty of success after college. He is a co-founder of Student Veterans of America and later worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But he said he skipped rungs along the way, and felt he had gaps in his workplace know-how, particularly with everyday tasks like using Excel databases and PowerPoint, and understanding financial documents.

“I was leading teams and didn’t have to do it myself,” said Blumke.

He learned how to get the job done himself during his recent stint at Fullbridge, as well as how to tailor his skills and knowledge to the private sector.

“I learned more in the last month than I did in the last 10 years of professional experience,” Blumke said.

Fullbridge is collaborating with Concordia to take its veterans' program to the next level. Concordia, which enrolls 5,400 students, mostly in graduate programs, holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The university’s accreditation will extend to the certificate. And the Fullbridge instructors will be Concordia adjuncts. They will have to meet the university’s standards. So will the veteran students, who need to have an undergraduate G.P.A. of 2.85 or higher and a bachelor’s from a regionally accredited college to be admitted.

The five courses in the program will cover competencies in business research and analysis, sales and marketing, creative problem solving, financial analysis and marketing, and how to use Excel and PowerPoint, among others.

Once mastered, Fullbridge says, those competencies should help veterans land a job in the corporate world or a slot at a top graduate program.

It worked for Carroll. He’s now a student at Duke University’s law school.

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