Pioneering University Taps First of Its Kind Work-Based Learning Marketplace to Bring Real-World Employer Projects into the Classroom

In collaboration with Riipen, National University is using a groundbreaking approach to instruction that enables students to earn credit, while learning through valuable, hands-on experiences

SAN DIEGO, CA (MARCH 21, 2024)National University (NU)—a nonprofit Minority Serving Institution that serves more than 50,000 students annually through its degree programs and another 80,000 through its workforce and professional training programs—today announced initial results from a new education technology pilot program that integrates work-based learning experiences into the curriculum. In collaboration with Riipen, developer of a popular marketplace platform that enables college students to connect with real-world projects from companies, the university is expanding access to micro-internships and other work-based learning opportunities for the diverse student body that it serves.

“The non-traditional, working, and military learners are mobile and career-motivated: they want to understand how their academic experiences will translate into skills and credentials that hold currency with employers and in the labor market. They don’t want to wait two or four years to put their skills to the test,” said Dr. Mark D. Milliron, president and CEO of National University. “This is a powerful example of how we can deliver on the promise of credential and value-rich education by unlocking opportunities for career advancement before they even complete their degree.”

A recent report from the Strada Institute for the Future of Work the Burning Glass Institute found that more than half of recent graduates are now underemployed, working in jobs that don’t require a degree. At the same time, a growing number of corporate executives often view college graduates as unprepared for real-world problem-solving. Meanwhile, a lack of access to tangible experiences, such as internships, may actually perpetuate equity gaps in the workplace because wealthier and better-connected students are more likely to access paid internships.

To help bridge this gap, the university’s Learning Experience (LeX) team launched a pilot with Riipen designed to connect students with live employer projects, providing hands-on experience in their chosen field of study while also earning academic credit. Instructors in a growing number of academic departments have begun to use the platform, with the highest usage by engineering and technology faculty and in academic programs like Cybersecurity, Data Science, and Manufacturing Engineering, and Healthcare. 

Since the pilot program launched in 2021, more than 33 NU faculty have used the technology to integrate dozens of employer-created projects into NU courses and serve more than 190 students. In many cases, faculty are using the work-based learning platform as part of Capstone projects, providing students with real-world experience in their field of study. The pilot’s success has generated positive feedback, with particularly strong participation in competitive fields like Cybersecurity and Engineering where coveted internships with top employers are often in short supply.

“By breaking down the historic silos between work and classroom experiences, we’re bringing work experience and skill-building opportunities to our students’ doorstep,” said Errin Heyman, associate vice president of learning experience with National University at National University, part of the team managing the program. “This approach is changing the game by making the competition for talent and skills come to students, instead of the other way around, benefiting our students and employer partners.”

Riipen’s unique platform enables faculty to embed employer-created projects into courses and activities. Companies of all kinds—from small, community-based nonprofits like the YMCA to large corporations like IBM—use the platform to connect with students who can contribute to projects and assignments, build their talent pipelines, and strengthen their brand among students and young professionals.

“We’re on a mission to democratize access to great careers and upward mobility: the kinds of project-based, real-world experience that can have a profound impact on career success are all too often out of reach,” said Dana Stephenson, founder and CEO of Riipen. “This is about altering the constraints between higher education curriculum and industry—and making it possible for companies to rapidly identify and recruit students to work on projects while bringing rich, applied learning experiences into the learning experience.”

As a veteran-founded Minority Serving Institution, National University has a student population that reflects the shifting — and highly diverse — demographics of higher education today. Well-known for its distinctive focus on serving adult learners, educators and veterans, the university has for more than 50 years honed its unique expertise in developing workforce-relevant degrees and credentials designed specifically for working adults.

For more information about National University, visit

For more information about Riipen, visit

About National University: National University, a Veteran-founded nonprofit, has been dedicated to meeting the needs of hard-working adults by providing accessible, affordable higher education opportunities since 1971. As San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, NU offers over 190+ online and on-campus programs with flexible four-week and eight-week classes and one-to-one graduate education models designed to help students reach their goals while balancing busy lives. Since its founding, the NU community has grown to 130,000 learners served per year—50,000 degree-seeking students and 80,000 workforce and professional development students—and 230,000 alumni around the globe, many of whom serve in helping industries such as business, education, health care, cybersecurity, and law and criminal justice. To learn more about National University’s new possibilities in education including next-generation education, value-rich education, and whole human education, visit

About Riipen: Riipen is enabling transformative opportunities for companies to collaborate with post-secondary students on real-time, real-world challenges that are embedded directly into coursework. To date, Riipen has enabled over 217,000 learners at 640+ post-secondary schools to complete 13.3 million hours of applied learning with 35,000 companies. Their mission: to help students of all backgrounds and geographies to boost their skills, gain career clarity, network, and find jobs they love.

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