Merit America: What to Know About this Non-Profit's Affordable Online Technical Training
College is often touted as the most reliable path toward high earnings and job security. Because of that, many Americans have chosen to pursue higher education. In fact, the US Census found that, in 2019, 36 percent of the population over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree or higher. This was a significant jump from only 29 percent in 2010. However, this leaves more than 60 percent of the population with less than a bachelor’s degree.
There are many options for solid careers without earning a four-year degree. Community colleges offer outstanding vocational programs. Many employers, unions, and government agencies provide apprenticeship opportunities. There are also some careers where on-the-job training is a viable option and employees can work their way up the ranks and gain valuable experience.
Despite all these options, many in-demand jobs require applicants to have a base level of skills and knowledge that can only be obtained through an educational program. The barriers to completing a program vary from person to person but can include the inability to take time off work, no programs close to where they live, or the upfront expense or debt of completing a program.
To address these barriers, Connor Diemand-Yauman and Rebecca Taber Staehelin created Merit America. Merit America is a non-profit that, according to the website, “provides a path to skilled technology careers for Americans who can’t yet compete for these roles.” All Merit America programs are offered through distance learning and have no upfront costs.
In February 2022, Merit America started a partnership with Social Finance to support students seeking Google Career Certificates in IT and data analytics. Funded through a $100 million program sponsored by Google Career Certificates Fund, this new program aims to “empower more than 20,000 learners to realize over $1 billion in aggregate wage gains over the next decade.” As this program is brand new, details have yet to be announced, but when they are, candidates will be able to apply through Merit America.
Since its inception, they have graduated over 1,000 students. Currently, 84 percent of people who start their program complete it, and on average, graduates saw an $18,000 increase in their wages. Keep reading to learn what careers they offer, who qualifies, and how it works.
Careers Available to Merit America Candidates
Merit America focuses on careers that are both in-demand and require technical skills. The three current options include IT support, Java development, or data analytics. The programs vary in length from 14 to 30 weeks, depending on the career chosen.
The IT support program is 14 weeks and was developed with the help of Google employees. Upon completion, students are awarded an industry-recognized Google IT Support Certificate. Topics covered include systems operations, troubleshooting, computer networking, and technical support.
The Java development program is 30 weeks long and prepares students for work as java software developers. Students will learn HTML, CSS, agile development methodologies, and data structures. This program is great for students who have tried programming, like building things, and enjoy solving problems.
The data analytics program is 16 weeks long and teaches data visualization structures, data types and structures, and problem-solving with data. For this program, students must complete a capstone project to demonstrate their competency.
How Merit America Career Training Works
To enroll, prospective students must complete an online application. Each career option has limited spots, so interested candidates should submit their applications sooner rather than later to guarantee a spot. To help students be successful, all programs include one-on-one coaching with a professional career coach. Not only will these coaches help with completing the program, but they will also help students with their career search and job placement.
Once students are enrolled, they complete four weeks of foundation courses to ensure the program is a good fit. At the four-week mark, students who choose to continue to the “immersion” component of the program are asked to sign a Success Sharing Agreement. The Success Sharing Agreement stipulates that once a graduate is placed in a job earning $40,000 per year or more, they will make $95 monthly repayments to Merit America for up to 60 months. Payment is capped at $5,700 with no interest.
There are no upfront costs to the program and students only make payments once they are gainfully employed. The curriculum for Merit America is designed to help students get hired. Coaches work with students to interview with partner employers and find a job that suits their needs.
The Success Sharing Agreement expires 60 months after a student completes the technical portion of their program, even if they have never made a payment. The money students repay is invested back into Merit America to help other students find the same success.
Who Qualifies for Merit America?
The goal of Merit America is to help people who haven’t typically been able to compete for technology jobs. This can be because of a lack of education, resources, or time. Because they aim to target specific populations, Merit America has strict eligibility guidelines to benefit those who need it the most.
In order to qualify for Merit America, applicants must:
- Have not earned a bachelor’s degree
- Be a fluent English speaker
- Have authorization to work in the US
- Own a device that can access the internet
If an applicant has already earned a bachelor’s degree, they may still be considered for the program so long as they:
- Graduated more than five years ago
- Have earned less than $35,000 per year for the past 12 months