In a region overflowing with institutions of higher education, one of the best kept secrets may be the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) in the heart of Boston. Founded in 1908 with funds bequeathed by Benjamin Franklin and matched by Andrew Carnegie, the Benjamin Franklin Union, as it was then called, offered a curriculum focused on the sciences and preparation for careers in industry. Over a hundred years later, the school continues in the tradition of offering a pragmatic education geared toward preparing its students for jobs in leading industries, which, today, includes technology. For tech companies looking for talent to fill “new collar” jobs, BFIT is a tremendous local resource.
While other local colleges and universities may seek to educate the world, BFIT seeks to educate Bostonians and other local residents from the greater Boston area, many of whom have significant barriers to accessing higher education. This is what the BFIT student body looks like:
- 40% of students graduated from Boston Public Schools
- 50% of students are from Boston proper, with the largest enrollments from Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan
- 52% are first generation college students
- 93% of students receive financial aid
- 88% have a median household income under $24K
- 70% are people of color
- 84% are male, 14% are female
“A BFIT college education provides the technical, communication, and problem-solving skills necessary for well-paying jobs that are in high-demand in our region. In turn, training tomorrow’s skilled workforce will uplift our graduates, their families, and the communities they live in,” says Tony Benoit, President of BFIT.
In order to assure that students successfully complete their education, BFIT provides an on-site social worker, a food bank, career success and student success coaches, free tutoring, and grant funding. This extensive support system has worked—BFIT’s graduation rate is 3 times the state average and 2 times the national average.
The college also works to limit the financial burden on its students, most of whom are from familiest that are living paycheck-to-paycheck. BFIT was the first private school in Massachusetts to belong to the Boston tuition free community college program. BFIT also gives over $2.6 million per year in financial aid, it develops relationships with employers that can offer internships and scholarships, and it offers many grants. BFIT is always actively seeking additional funding sources from organizations committed to supporting successful models of post-secondary STEM education. The goal is to ensure that students do not graduate with more than $5000 in loans.
One of the hallmarks of BFIT is its ability and willingness to adapt to changes in industry and to train its students for what the market demands. By working with employers, the school is able to keep abreast of changing needs with regard to skills and training. “BFIT collaborates with more than 100 corporate partners which enables our students to forge professional connections, attain relevant work experience, and gain the confidence to land well-paying jobs in technical careers. Our corporate partners know that BFIT’s talent pipeline is vital to their business plans. Our job placement rate last year was above 90% and we are always looking for additional partners,” says Aisha Francis, Chief of Staff at BFIT
With a focus on hands-on training in high-growth technical fields, the school offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in fields ranging from HVAC&R to electrical engineering, but it also partners with other organizations that are working to bring non-traditional students into the technical workforce in MA. Two such examples are Apprenti and Open Avenues Foundation.
Apprenti, a non-profit created by the WTIA Workforce Institute, engages directly with employers to deliver a registered tech apprenticeship program for non-traditional candidates, especially attracting more women, people of color, and veterans to pursue a career pathway in IT-related roles. The goal is to give candidates technical skills through related instruction over the course of two to five months followed by one-year of on-the-job training, providing apprentices with practical, hands-on learning and work experience that will serve as a pathway for middle-skills tech jobs.
Providing registered apprenticeships, as opposed to just apprenticeships, ensures that candidates have their skills certified and recognized wherever they apply. In other words, the training is portable and applicable across industries. Approximately 80 percent of Apprenti apprentices are retained by their sponsoring employer or within the industry.
What is BFIT’s role? Apprenti offers programs for approximately ten IT-related occupations such as Software Developers, Cybersecurity Analysts, Systems Administrators, and more with curricula drafted in consultation with industry and participating employers. BFIT is partnering with Apprenti to provide training for the IT Business Analyst program, the first IT Business Analyst program for Apprenti in Massachusetts. This fall semester, BFIT professors will train 14 apprentices who will then go on to paid apprenticeships at 6 local companies: Cengage, Eversource, Harvard University IT, PTC, RSM, and Wayfair. The classroom training is intensive—9-5 five days per week for 13 weeks—and the students will receive various credentials throughout their training.
The hands-on, real world training that is core to Apprenti’s approach aligns perfectly with BFIT’s philosophy of providing a pragmatic education geared toward equipping students to work in the industry jobs most in demand.
Open Avenues Foundation
Building off of the Massachusetts Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GEIR) program, which was also conceived of and designed by Open Avenues’ Co-Founder, Jeff Goldman, the Open Avenues Foundation is a 501(C)(3) non-profit that connects global talent in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to university students in Massachusetts. Open Avenues employs field experts at high-growth companies to train the future workforce with the skills necessary to succeed in STEM and business careers. Through the Next-Gen Talent Catalyst program, Open Avenues Foundation is working to prepare traditionally underrepresented student populations for the STEM and business workforce in Massachusetts and beyond.
Open Avenues Foundation’s partners with BFIT to complement students’ traditional academic courses with experiential learning opportunities. Through these hands-on projects, students are immersed in experiences that simulate real-world settings and business challenges. In the 2019-2020 school year, Open Avenues Foundation’s Experts-in-Residence are challenging students to solve real computer ccience challenges as part of their fall 2019 professional seminar, and planning is underway for corporate challenges to launch for spring business and finance courses.
BFIT continues to grow and evolve. The relationships with Apprenti and Open Avenues Foundation are just two examples of the creative partnerships that the school is pursuing in order to provide pragmatic training and expand the community of experiential teachers and learners. There are more exciting partnerships in the works that we will see roll out in the coming years.
In the meantime, the school is preparing to move from its South End location to a state-of-the-art facility in Dudley Square. The proposed 55,000+ square foot complex will house an advanced manufacturing center and walk-in optical shop, as well as other innovative facilities for students and the broader community. BFIT is targeting fall of 2021 to open this new campus.
A school made possible by the foresight of an 18th century thinker continues to have relevance as we head into the third decade of the 21st century. The future is bright for BFIT and the community it serves!