For millions of working Americans, college isn’t the solution. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only one in 10 students from a low-income background earns a university degree by the time they’re 25. Many of those that earn their degree face another problem – crippling student debt.
Yet a college degree is still seen as the most direct path to the middle class. The average income for a person with a high school education is $29,000 annually, versus $51,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Because of this, a bachelor’s degree has been seen as a natural step after high school. But higher education comes at a high cost that most American’s can’t afford, preventing them from reaping the rewards of post-secondary education. And things have only gotten worse since the onset of the pandemic, with low-wage workers being hit the hardest in the economy.
These striking trends fuel Merit America, a nonprofit that helps working Americans carve a path to higher-paying jobs and resilient careers. For working adults making just enough to pay the bills, options are limited— they can’t afford to take time off work, or pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. This is where Merit America comes in. Its career-focused programs are short (3 – 6 months), flexible (they work with the busy schedule of working adults), and built around industry-recognized professional certifications.
Merit America’s mission is simple: create a world where anyone can advance their life based on merit, not money.
Merit-Based Career Opportunity
Merit America is a nonprofit that serves working adults. Their programs are designed to prepare low-wage workers for in-demand careers by combining online learning with intensive professional coaching and peer support. Merit’s programs are flexible, so learners won’t have to leave their current jobs to complete them. All the learning is virtual, so students can complete the program anywhere, anytime.
Most importantly, Merit’s program requires no up-front tuition; only learners who complete the program and secure a well-paid job are asked to participate in a “success sharing agreement”, paying $163 per month over two years so future learners can access the program. If you don’t get a new job making at least $40,000, you owe nothing, and if you lose your new job (or your salary dips below $40,000), you stop paying.
Merit America was started when the founders saw a gap in the market. There was a clear need for skill development programs that were flexible enough to be completed part-time and effective in helping low-wage workers to find a path to a skilled career.
The Right Learning Track for You
Merit America offers three career tracks: IT Support, Java Development, and Tech Sales. These tracks were chosen after a robust analysis of labor market trends; they are fields with strong employer demand, high growth, and excellent pay, where learners can build a resilient, upwardly mobile career.
Duration: 13 weeks
Duration: 30 weeks
Duration: 14 weeks
There are five steps that Merit America students will go through, regardless of the career track they choose to pursue:
1. Apply to Merit America
Merit America’s application process is straightforward and accessible. Applicants fill out a short application, complete a recorded video interview, and join a live webinar with Merit America staff
Merit America notes that ideal learners should be driven and passionate about their career prospects. The organization welcomes those who have a genuine connection to their chosen track.
2. Build a Strong Foundation
In the first phase of the program, learners work closely with instructors to hone their career goals and better understand the Merit America program
3. Immerse Yourself in the Program
Next, learners complete their technical training in their chosen track, including courses led by technical leaders while practicing professional skills to ensure that they are prepared for their new careers.
4. Find Your Next Employment
Once learners are finished with their technical training, Merit America helps them land a new job. Learners will apply to jobs each week, working with career coaches to hone their interview skills and resume. The placement team also connects learners with employer partners like Amazon, JP Morgan, Chase, and Infosys.
5. Graduate and Join the Active Alumni Network
Learners are always part of the bigger family: once they graduate, they are alumni for life. That means Merit America is always ready to extend support beyond their first job post-graduation. Alumni are welcome to reach out for additional resources when looking to change jobs, negotiate a raise, or build a strategy for future career moves.
To ensure money is not a barrier to anyone completing their programs, Merit America offers a ”Success Sharing Agreement”. In this program, learners pay nothing until they land a job paying a minimum salary. For example, learners in their IT track pay nothing unless they get a job paying $40,000 or more.
Once graduates land a qualifying job, they begin repaying Merit America with monthly payments (e.g. $163 for 24 months for their IT track).
Merit America also has safety nets in place so students pay nothing if:
- They are unemployed or unable to work
- They take time off work to continue education
- They are in a job that’s below the income threshold
- Four years have passed since graduation, even if they have paid nothing
Merit America Invests in Passionate, Driven, and Goal-Oriented Learners
Merit America invests in hardworking, talented working adults. By investing in students upfront, the school eliminates a major barrier in the path of working adults seeking to grow their careers, gain stable and expansive employment opportunities, and make a great salary.
To date, Merit America has served over 1,000 learners. The programs have an 82 percent graduation rate with an average annual salary increase of over $18,000. Additionally, 74 percent of job-seeking graduates found new roles within 12 months of graduating.
The success stories of Merit Graduates are the ultimate proof of Merit’s impact, and showcase ordinary people making extraordinary transformations.
If you’re looking to take the next step in your career or make a pivot, you can begin your application on Merit’s website.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.