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As of last June, 46% of recent college graduates were underemployed, meaning they had jobs that didn’t require a college degree, while a further 6% were unemployed. For employers, meanwhile, hiring young people means dealing with a lot of churn and an extensive training process; the average tenure in a first job is just 18 months.

With the cost of college and student loan debt rising, there’s increasing urgency to help graduates find fulfilling careers that fit their skills. A recent startup, Koru, is addressing itself to this problem.

Who We Are from Koru on Vimeo.

“A lot of young people feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods,” says Josh Jarrett, the founder and CEO of Koru. “One young woman told us, ‘I never felt more abandoned than the day I graduated college. I was like Now What? I was on this 16 year long conveyor belt, I go to the end, and I was dropped off.”

For almost eight years, Jarrett supported other endeavors as a higher education program officer for the Gates Foundation. He made the decision to take the leap into entrepreneurship because of a strong belief in the power of both/and: both liberal arts education for its own sake combined with extremely practical hands-on experience.

The Koru model is for young people, from about the junior year of college through a few years after graduation, to work on a real challenge set by an employer: for example, do field research to determine the best way of reaching Millennial customers. To provide better context for their immersion in the world of work, they go through an MBA-lite curriculum covering concepts like design thinking and business analytics. The model is blended learning, using the same kinds of collaboration software that young hires are likely to encounter in the office, like Basecamp and Asana.

Koru piloted its first, 10-day programs in Seattle earlier this year with companies including outdoor outfitter REI and online retailer zulily. They plan to launch a full set of four-week-long programs in Seattle over the summer, in San Francisco by the fall. They just announced a set of partner institutions that plan to offer Koru as a career services option. These are a well-known group of universities and liberal arts colleges: Bates, Brown University, Colorado College, Connecticut College, Denison University, Georgetown University, Mount Holyoke, Occidental, Pomona, University of Southern California, Vassar, Whitman, and Williams. “There will be a cost share between participants and employers,” Jarrett says–participants or their parents, and possibly their colleges, will pay part, and employers will contribute a placement fee if they end up hiring the participants.

Koru is part of a wave of what I call “educational popups” that seek to bridge the worlds of formal education and various industries. They are most numerous in the technology and design industries–Hacker School, General Assembly, and Hyper Island are all good examples.

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Anya Kamenetz is a journalist, the author of The Stolen Year: How Covid Changed Children's Lives, And Where We Go Now, and a senior advisor to the Aspen Institute's This Is Planet Ed initiative.

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