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  • Writer's pictureProject on Workforce Team

Kathleen deLaski | Team Profile

Kathleen deLaski profile image

Kathleen deLaski serves as a Senior Advisor at the Project on Workforce at Harvard. She is the founder and Board Chair of Education Design Lab, a non-profit intermediary that works with community colleges and employers to design new credentials for high demand, sustaining wage jobs. She also serves on the board of non-profit Credential Engine, which is bringing transparency to the marketplace of educational and occupational credentials, and houses the Credential Registry of publicly accessible information about providers, credentials, skills and their pathways to employment. deLaski is an adjunct professor of human centered design at George Mason University. She has an upcoming book on the changing need for a college degree.

deLaski’s research focus includes skills visibility, micro-credentials, reimagining the entry level hiring process, redesigning college to meet the needs of New Majority Learners.

deLaski began her career as a television journalist, and became a White House correspondent at ABC News. She was appointed as Defense Spokesman by President Bill Clinton. She also designed news and politics sites in the early days of AOL. She has been named to Washingtonian Magazine's Top Policy Influencers list from 2022-24.




Selected Research & Projects

Education Design Lab | Nonprofit Organization

The Education Design Lab is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting learners to economic mobility. The process helps higher education leaders consider the needs of employers, using curriculum and program design as a gateway to make skills more visible to students and employers alike.

Credential Engine | Nonprofit Organization

Credential Engine is a non-profit whose mission is to create credential transparency, reveal the credential marketplace, increase credential literacy, and empower everyone to make more informed decisions about credentials and their value. Credential Engine provides a suite of web-based services that creates for the first time a centralized Credential Registry to house up-to-date information about all credentials, a common description language to enable credential comparability, and a platform to support customized applications to search and retrieve information about credentials.

Skills visibility is the next step in the Learner Revolution. It puts (l)earners at the center of the shift to skills. Do we understand this opportunity? Do we see the potential? Are we mitigating the risks? This paper attempts to organize that thinking as more than the sum of the interesting parts that are emerging. We attempt to organize it into a new talent ecosystem vision made possible by the skills-based learner revolution. And to urge that we consider the promise and the risks as these tools, standards, and practices begin touching humans. And to design accordingly before it’s too late.

Higher education is in the throes of a learner revolution that will fundamentally change the way students and institutions interact. This paper provides guidance for “intrepreneurs” who want to move their institutions toward preparing students for a more skills-based digital future and still preserve what is meaningful about traditional higher education.

The Future of Universities Thoughtbook aims to address the pressing need for universities to better align with business innovation supply chains, employer talent needs, and societal development. It highlights a perceived lack of inspiration and innovation in higher education, with discussions often limited to incremental adaptations. The thoughtbook advocates for universities to embrace change and actively shape their role in society to avoid irrelevance. By inviting professionals from various sectors to contribute visions for the future, the thoughtbook seeks to inspire universities to become drivers of positive change and innovation. It emphasizes the importance of universities disrupting their own models to stay relevant and poses questions about what the future of universities might look like in 2040.

Selected Media

Professional skills are becoming outdated faster than ever before and traditional education can’t keep up. So, what role must colleges and universities play in helping individuals keep up with the needs of industry? Digital credentialing has become a key player in upskilling employees before their skills become irrelevant. In this interview, Kathleen deLaski discusses the value of digital credentials, the impact they have on society and the challenges facing their broad proliferation.

Todd Zipper, EVP and GM of Wiley University Services and Talent Development, welcomes Kathleen deLaski, Founder and CEO of Education Design Lab. Todd and Kathleen discuss building new education pathways that better serve students. Listen to their conversation on your favorite podcast platform. Topics Discussed include the emergence of “the new majority learner”; The biggest challenges of a skills-based economy; The reason why only 17% of community college learners working towards a four-year degree attain it; The benefits of the micropathway approach; and how the COVID-19 pandemic helped providers understand and meet the changing needs of learners.

The Education Design Lab, led by founder and CEO Kathleen deLaski, is a non-profit organization focused on redesigning education to better serve the New Majority Learners, including marginalized groups often overlooked in traditional education models. The Lab creates and scales prototype education models that cater to the needs of diverse learners. One of the Lab's initiatives involves micro-pathways, aimed at helping community colleges offer sub-degree credentials validated by employers. The Lab works closely with a coalition of community colleges to launch pilots focused on micro-pathways, enabling learners to earn stackable credits and competitive wages. Through these efforts, the Lab seeks to address equity, workforce education, and credentialing challenges in education.

Selected Articles

Community colleges have received significant investments during the pandemic, but the removal of "free community college" from future federal bills signals a need for adaptation. Enrollment decline and competition from private boot camps highlight a failure to meet evolving student needs. To address this, the Community College Growth Engine Fund facilitates the development of shorter-term credentials, or "micro-pathways," in collaboration with employers. These credentials, designed to fill employment gaps, are job role-specific and stackable towards a degree. Community colleges are transitioning towards becoming regional talent agents, offering faster and more targeted skill training aligned with employer needs. The goal is to create a new paradigm where credentials are aligned with industry competency frameworks, transforming community colleges into hubs of talent supply and demand management. This shift towards "Community College 2.0" aims to provide lifelong education opportunities for learners while meeting the evolving demands of employers and industries.

The concept of personalized medicine, which tailors treatments to an individual's unique DNA and medical history, has revolutionized cancer treatment. Similarly, a personalized approach is emerging in workforce development to help millions of Americans displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic transition to new jobs and sectors. A groundbreaking report from the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland analyzes job data to identify skills needed for different occupations, enabling workers to understand how their existing skills can translate to new roles. This personalized approach offers hope for displaced workers to find higher-paying jobs and for employers to embrace skills-based hiring practices. However, there is a need to bridge the gap between traditional jobs and emerging careers, and to prioritize "mobility skills" like communication and problem-solving in education and training programs. Overall, personalized workforce development holds promise for creating more equitable hiring practices and empowering workers to thrive in the changing job market.

The traditional inclination to donate to prestigious alma maters may not always align with maximizing philanthropic impact. While elite colleges offer intellectual spaces and powerful networks, evidence suggests that community colleges and state universities often provide higher returns for graduates and better social mobility opportunities. Research by economists like Raj Chetty highlights the effectiveness of low-cost state colleges in fostering upward mobility. Community colleges, despite smaller endowments, excel in adapting to employer and learner needs, making them vital engines of economic development and educational innovation. Examples from institutions like the Alamo Colleges District and Virginia Western Community College underscore their role in addressing local workforce demands. Despite their importance, community colleges often lack the resources needed to navigate shifts in the labor market, highlighting the need for increased support. While alumni may receive numerous requests from prestigious institutions, considering donations to community colleges or regional public universities can have a significant impact on promoting upward mobility and addressing economic challenges.

An insightful look into the evolving landscape of political reporting from the perspective of a journalist who transitioned from TV reporting to online journalism. Initially, the challenges of covering political campaigns for TV involved maintaining relevance to average viewers while being isolated from real voter interactions. In contrast, online platforms like AOL allowed for real-time engagement with voters, providing interactive tools and chat rooms to decipher political events. The emergence of dot-com startups in politics hinted at a shift in journalistic practices, driven by technological advancements and venture capital investment. deLaski's role at AOL involved developing interactive tools and facilitating public engagement, emphasizing a commitment to public service over traditional reporting norms. The text concludes with the author reflecting on the changing nature of their occupation, highlighting the transition from TV celebrity reporter to a more behind-the-scenes role in online journalism.

While employer acceptance of micro-credentials grows, understanding and meeting the needs of learners remain paramount. Three distinct learner personas have emerged: Ninja Career Climbers, Newbies to the Hiring Game, and Frontline workers with high potential but low digital confidence. Each group requires tailored approaches to foster trust and engagement in the micro-credentialing marketplace. To navigate the burgeoning market effectively, scalable and transparent frameworks, visible tools for skill visualization, and robust privacy policies are essential. Collaboration with extreme users, particularly those marginalized, can ensure that innovations benefit those most in need. Ultimately, the success of the Learner Revolution hinges on intentional design that prioritizes the needs and aspirations of learners from all backgrounds.

Kathleen deLaski reflects on her father's unconventional quest for meaning and how it inspired a $10 million donation to George Mason University to establish a center focused on well-being. She highlights the alarming lack of well-being among college students, citing Gallup surveys showing only 13 percent report a positive sense of well-being. George Mason University utilized the grant to create programs addressing various aspects of well-being, leading to transformative experiences for students. The university's strategic focus on well-being sets it apart, emphasizing not just physical wellness but also social, financial, community, and purposeful aspects. Research shows that engagement and purpose are crucial for success, challenging traditional notions about education, including the efficacy of online learning. DeLaski advocates for a broader movement toward well-being in education, hoping to address low engagement levels not just in academia but also in the workforce.


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