Workers who complete IBM's yearlong apprenticeship program in software engineering will be able to earn up to 45 college credits at participating colleges after the American Council on Education recognized the program this week.
The development is part of ACE's Apprenticeship Pathways project, which it recently set up to offer college credit for a wider range of alternative educational experiences.
The credits represent about three semesters of coursework. Students will also receive ACE-endorsed badges and transcripts on Credly's digital credential platform.
ACE announced its Apprenticeship Pathway project with the Charles Koch Foundation in October. It's working with several large employers, including IBM, to evaluate certain apprenticeship programs for college credit as part of a pilot.
It counts six colleges as partners, including Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, Excelsior College in New York and California State University, San Bernardino. Those institutions have agreed to accept credit recommendations from students who complete apprenticeship programs in the pilot, including IBM's software engineering program.
IBM started its apprenticeship program in 2017, and nearly 1,000 workers have since completed its apprenticeships across 25 career tracks. More than 90% of apprentices receive full-time job offers from the company, said Kelli Jordan, IBM's director of career, skills and performance.
ACE's recognition of the program will help make apprenticeships a viable alternative pathway in the U.S., Jordan said.
"The bridge that it creates between workforce training and higher education is really a step forward, allowing people to not necessarily have to make a choice of one path versus another," Jordan said.
The U.S. Department of Labor also recognizes IBM's software engineer program as an official registered apprenticeship.
The Trump administration made expanding apprenticeships a priority, issuing new regulations in 2020 that established a system to evaluate the programs that made it easier for employers and education providers to create their own. However, policy experts said the new rules also opened the door for lower-quality programs.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order to pare down that system, saying it duplicated the federal government's existing apprenticeship program. He also signaled his support for the National Apprenticeship Act, a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this year that would invest $3.5 billion in registered apprenticeships. IBM also supports the bill, which hasn't advanced in the Senate.