Skill - Rick O'Donnell - CEO of Skills Fund - Fueling the Accelerated Learning Revolution

Rick is the CEO and founder of Skills Fund, which provides students with funding to attend accelerated learning programs that have been rigorously vetted on the quality of their student outcomes. Previously, Rick founded and worked in multiple education technology companies, including the Acton Foundation, College Portfolio, and Fullbridge. Rick also spent time in the public sector, leading the Colorado Department of Higher Education. Rick talks about the challenges that we face in reforming higher ed, the history and future of accelerated learning programs, and the unsettled debate about whether loans or ISAs are better for students.

What are the pressing challenges we face in reforming higher education? How are accelerated learning programs, like coding bootcamps and skill academies, changing the game? Does it matter how students finance their education? And, what is the future of accelerated learning?

On Episode 15 of the Skill Podcast, Micah shares a conversation with Rick O'Donnell, Founder and CEO of Skills Fund, a company that provides students with loans to attend vetted, quality skill academies such as Galvanize, Hack Reactor, and Thinkful.

Rick and Micah discuss how Skills Fund is trying to solve a part of the puzzle traditional accreditors are failing to address: school quality. They also discuss the tight link between school quality and student performance in the job market after graduation. Finally, they imagine a world in the near future where students have multiple funding options to attend accelerated learning programs at Universities, bootcamps, and skill academies across the country.

Throughout this conversation, Rick and Micah cover the following topics:

  • Their mutual affinity for the word "skill"
  • Rick's early career as a public servant and policymaker in Colorado
  • The numerous challenges facing higher education
  • Would a new type of degree solve any of these challenges?
  • Rick's entrepreneurial career after his time in Government
  • The genesis behind Skills Fund
  • The misaligned incentives in higher ed, and the role accreditors play
  • It's not "accreditation", it's "quality assurance"
  • The innovations in quality assurance that Skills Fund has introduced to the market
  • The greatest moral travesty in higher ed
  • The Return On Education (ROE) concept
  • Accelerated learning: 0 to 40,000 students over the last 8 years
  • The opportunities for skill academy entrepreneurs today
  • The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR)
  • The relationship between Skills Fund and CIRR
  • Are Universities and Colleges becoming more concerned about outcomes?
  • The barriers that Congress has put in front of higher education reform
  • How the Federal Government could help spur change in higher ed
  • The unresolved debate regarding Income Share Agreements vs. Student Loans
  • The future for Skills Fund
  • Are bootcamps competing with colleges or with graduate schools?
  • Are skill academy graduates being accepted by employers?
  • Why aren't more bootcamps funded by the Department of Labor vs. the Department of Education?


You can connect with Rick at rick "at"

You can connect with Micah at micah "at" OR on Twitter @MicahMerrick

Thanks for listening!