Breakthrough Programs

The past decade has seen the rise of innovative education and training programs designed to propel less-advantaged learners into family-sustaining careers. But these “breakthrough” programs only serve a small share of the learners who could stand to benefit. Philanthropic capital and collective action are essential to removing barriers and growing that marketplace.

How Might We…

Create a healthy market of breakthrough programs that seamlessly connect education and work and enable economic mobility?

The Challenge & Opportunity

A new breed of education-to-work programs are generating promising early outcomes. But breakthrough programs focused on low-income learners face significant barriers to sustainability and scale. As it stands, the vast majority of innovative ed-work programs are serving learners who already have a bachelor’s degree, not less-advantaged learners. If we don’t change course, only those who already have significant resources stand to benefit. Philanthropic capital and collective action is needed to create the conditions for a healthy marketplace of breakthrough programs designed to serve less-advantaged opportunity seekers.

OPeN Investments in Breakthrough Programs

Kenzie Academy High School Partnership

Kenzie Academy closes the tech opportunity gap in Middle America through an accelerated program that offers a cutting-edge curriculum at an affordable price point. Students participate in immersive, project-based courses in either software engineering, UX, or digital marketing.

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New Profit PIE Fund

The Postsecondary Innovation for Equity Fund invests in scaling postsecondary and career solutions with a proven impact for low-income and underrepresented students, aiming to support the development of 10 million more career-ready Americans by 2025.

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Quality Assurance Standards Board

The board is an independent nonprofit which created a set of five outcomes-based quality assurance standards for education, working with a nationally-recognized, bipartisan 40-person task force between 2016 and 2018.

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San Diego Workforce Partnership ISA Program

The Workforce ISA provides access to certificate programs in fast-growing technology fields that can be completed in 9–12 months. The programs focus on career readiness, mentoring and job placement support, and cost nothing upfront.

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Social Capital Field-Building

A nationwide field-building initiative, led by the Clayton Christensen Institute, to drive development, awareness, adoption, and support of high-quality social capital supports in education and training programs.

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How Philanthropy Can Help

In order to create a healthier marketplace, philanthropy should focus on four levers of change.


Provide entrepreneurs with catalytic funding by creating pooled, stage-gated capital, along with investments in program-scaling infrastructure.


Support R&D and insight sharing across program providers and funders to inform program and business model improvements.


Introduce new financing mechanisms that shift risk away from learners and incentivize programs to focus on outcomes.


Adopt standards that protect learners and validate the efficacy of innovative programs.

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