“Upside-down” programs allow students to transfer accredited technical training, work experience, military training, or community college coursework as credit toward a bachelor’s degree. Expansion of such programs, with emphasis on manufacturing-related fields, will reduce barriers between skills training and degree attainment, and enhance the quality of the manufacturing workforce.”- Milstein Symposium Building a Nation of Makers
Upside Down Degree
Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have traditionally succeeded by combining practical production knowledge with technical expertise and business acumen. The blend of practical, technical and managerial  that typifies these firms is not the result of a 4 year college program.  While technical and managerial knowledge can be obtained in college coursework, obtaining practical production type skills are gained in another path.
According to the Milstein Symposium report, “More troubling is that students are given little incentive to connect these two tracks. Colleges and universities frequently do not offer transfer credit for technical skills acquired either on the job, in community colleges, in the military, or through training.”

To overcome this disconnect, they propose an expansion of upside-down degrees.

An  “upside-down”  program essentially inverts the traditional four-year college model. Upside-down students start with the focused technical training and then take the broader coursework to both expand their knowledge base and enhance their critical thinking (see diagram above).

An “upside down’ program would entail academic credit / recognition for varying combinations of:

  • Technical training,
  • Military training,
  • Associate’s degrees,
  • Job experience

These could  be counted as up to two years of college credit.

Students then need only complete the remaining coursework to earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution.

Upside- down degrees can provide an  excellent means of integrating the skills needed by employees at todays advanced manufacturing SMEs- technical, practical, and managerial/academic.

We think that this idea is worth considering. We know that it works- as many of our PMPA member companies provide support for continuing education of both technical and college subjects.

Upside- down degrees

For more details on upside-down degrees see idea #2 (page 16 of the PDF) at the Milstein Report on PMPA’s homepage.


“By almost any measure the American Dream is in Peril. The  robust middle class growth of the 1950’s and 1960’s began to fade in the 1970’s and the core elements of the American Dream- homeownership, (job security*), secure retirement, and building a better life for your children- steadily eroded in the decades that followed.”-Milstein Symposium report, Building a Nation of Makers, June 13, 2014, Washington D.C.
The report indicates that Manufacturing remains a vital pathway to Middle Class, and achieving the American Dream.
american dream
Here are the 6 fresh, actionable ideas to expand the opportunities for middle class manufacturing jobs, restoring the American Dream developed by the Millstein commission:

  • Talent Investment loans to Expand Human Capital
  • Upside-Down Degrees to Connect Classroom Learning with On-the-Job Learning
  • A Skills Census to Build a more Efficient Skilled Labor Force
  • A National Supply Chain Initiative  o Fully Map America’s Manufacturing
  • Up-Skilling High School Students with Expanded Technology and Engineering Certification Programs
  • A “Big Trends- Small Firms initiative to Diffuse the Latest Technologies to Manufacturing SME’s

Together these recommendations wield tremendous transformative potential.
These ideas are actually able to be done. They address remediable issues in the manufacturing ecosystem- outside of politics, which appear to be in perpetual gridlock.
These ideas are implementable. In future posts, I hope to show how in fact these are actually part of the existing work product of PMPA, and how the identification of these by the Commission validates our work and strategic plan.
These ideas add value. PMPA has been involved in skilled workforce in manufacturing actively since the President first convened the Presidents Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (PCJC),  and ongoing through our work with other organizations including MFG Day and Business Leaders United, various community colleges and others. Yet, there are ideas in the Symposium’s report that are new and worth trying.
Next post: Talent Investment Loans to Expand Human Capital
 * I added job security- MKF