Calbright College
Paige Davis, Calbright College graduate.

For the first time since it opened, Calbright College isn’t facing an attempt to shut its doors – amid much criticism. In fact, the state’s online-only community college has launched its first apprenticeship partnership. 

In April, the college announced that its first group of nine students would be placed in a yearlong paid tech apprenticeship in customer relationship management skills with Fresno-based Bitwise Industries, which bridges people from underserved communities to tech companies. It’s the first such apprenticeship offered by Calbright to its students, who tend to be older, working adults seeking certifications to help them move to higher-paying jobs. 

Paige Davis, 36, who moved from Oklahoma to Sacramento in September, enrolled in Calbright in January to earn her customer relationship management certificate. Davis, one of the nine Bitwise apprentices, had her sights set on getting the apprenticeship as soon as she learned about the opportunity, she said. 

Davis, who has worked various odd jobs, said she focused on finishing the certificate quickly to get a better-paying job.

“I did the program really fast … but I knew I had to put in the work in order to get where I wanted to be,” Davis said, adding that the certificate can usually take eight to 10 months to complete. “It’s just me in California, and I don’t have a lot of family, and I don’t have a large support system, so if something fails, I can’t just call a friend. I had to make sure that I’m stable and safe and all of those things that you hope to be as an adult.” 

Calbright, which opened its doors to students in October 2019, is a free, self-paced alternative to traditional colleges. The college uses a competency-based education model that assesses students based on their skills, not the amount of time they spend in a class. Students can also earn certificates in information technology and cybersecurity.

But since the college first opened, it has been criticized for low numbers of student completions and few workforce or industry partnerships. From 2020 to 2022, the college has faced legislative bills to defund and eliminate it. However, the college’s biggest critic, Assemblymember Jose Medina, retired from the Legislature last year.

Michael Younger, Calbright’s vice president of workforce, strategy and innovation, said the college is grateful that legislation hasn’t been introduced this year to shut the college down.

“We know the work we’ve put into building partnerships and educating others about the value add of a Calbright,” he said, adding that more than a third of Calbright students are parents and 90% are 25 or older.

The college is solving challenges and helping a population of people who are facing systemic barriers to higher education and the workforce, Younger said.

As of April 28, the college had issued 261 certificates. Four students completed three certificates each, and 60 completed two certificates, according to the college. Today, more than 2,450 people are enrolled in Calbright.

Younger said the college is focused on creating more apprenticeships for students and expects the one with Bitwise to grow to include 25 students. The college also keeps track of the apprentices even after they’ve completed their certificates to provide assistance.

Davis, who will earn $25 an hour in the yearlong apprenticeship, is optimistic the position will lead to a full-time job. The median annual salary for people with customer relationship management skills is $63,000. Bitwise employs people with an annual salary range between $60,000 and $80,000.

“I definitely want to be a part of this program,” Davis said. “So far, it’s been incredible. I’ve worked in the corporate world before, and this is nothing like that. Everyone has been so welcoming and really wants you to be who you are as a whole person.”

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