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Developing a higher education model for resettled refugees: competency-based degrees for integration and employment [updated 02.28]

Providing resettled refugees with flexible opportunities for high-quality university education and employment experience

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Our team envisions a new model of higher education for resettled refugees in the United States, one which is high-quality, low-cost, and designed to meet individual learner needs. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) believes that higher education solutions should be as adaptable as the populations that they serve; our innovative competency-based AA and BA degrees enable learners to proceed at their own pace, while full accreditation and professional skills training ensure that learners will be able to find meaningful employment after graduation.

This idea is made possible by SNHU's innovative competency-based degree platform, College for America, a low-cost online education program that awards US-accredited degrees based on competencies that students acquire rather than by counting hours that they commit to their studies. This technology makes to possible to bring comprehensive, context-sensitive, and scalable higher education opportunities to resettled refugees.  

Resettled refugees face myriad pressures after arriving to the US, often struggling to integrate and find meaningful employment. Many have been disadvantaged by broken education systems in camps and conflict zones, and others lack documentation of their schooling and work experiences. Those with limited English language skills may find themselves socially isolated and in need of language courses. To provide for their families, many take on low-skill jobs. Amidst these competing demands, few resettled refugees are able to access higher education opportunities. Refugee learners who do manage to study in higher education institutions, including community colleges, often struggle to complete their degrees due to the lack of individualised academic support, competing responsibilities, inflexible learning models, and high costs.  

Yet many refugees - of all ages - are interested in pursuing further education, and many arrive in the US with some high school or tertiary education experience. There is strong evidence to suggest that expanding opportunities for resettled refugees to access AA & BA degrees supports them to develop a solid foundation of employment skills and qualifications and establish roots in a new country. A recent US report noted that policymakers need to improve access to education and mainstream jobs for resettled refugees.

The many steps in the integration process. Here, two members of Pittsburgh' Somali Bantu refugee community receive certificates at their naturalization ceremony.

Experts have criticized the traditional university learning model as inappropriate for many non-conventional students, and this is especially the case for resettled refugee learners. And it's true that many other students – both American and non-American - face similar challenges in obtaining a college degree; in fact, these kinds of students were for whom the competency-based College for America platform was designed. Yet resettled refugees, in particular youth and young adults, face a myriad of additional disadvantages, including lower educational and English levels, as well as potential traumatic past experiences. In addition, refugees who are resettled to the US are usually pushed immediately into low-skilled jobs in order to make money and be self-sustaining, given the extremely limited time period for resettlement support from agencies. Struggling with full-time jobs so soon after arrival in a new country – and often while also balancing family and community commitments – means that many resettled refugees never get the opportunity to improve their English skills or pursue costly higher education opportunities, leaving them trapped in low-skill, low-wage labour markets.

Education is the only way to break this cycle, and to offer resettled refugees greater economic mobility and social integration. That's why we want to create a pathway in which resettled refugees can be supported to pursue fully-accredited, online, competency-based degrees in a supportive and flexible program that accounts for their learning and emotional needs.

We are also interested in the exploring competency-based education as a model for offering US degree “equivalency” to resettled refugees who are already highly educated, but lack US-accredited degrees. The competency-based model is designed to advantage students who are already highly skilled and educated, with significant work experience. Without the constraints of seat time, the more competencies a potential student has already “mastered” in the real world, the more quickly they can move through their projects and the degree program.

In addition, we are particularly interested in developing a more robust financial sustainability model for this program. The current cost for accessing the College for American degree platform is $3,000 per year, which is already extremely low-cost compared to most American degree standards. However, this still presents a significant financial barrier for recently arrived refugees, especially those working in low-skilled jobs. As with other degree programs, students can use scholarships or government grants like the Pell Fund to cover tuition costs for CfA at SNHU. However, we anticipate that difficulties with financial literacy and other barriers to applying for financial aid will create challenges for refugee students seeking to enter our program. We therefore want to develop a model that includes coaching in financial literacy and advising support for students who are receiving financial aid, scholarships, or loans. (Check our user experience map to learn more!)

Prototyping and Feedback from Resettled Refugees (updated Feb 2017)

In order to elicit feedback and build a deeper understanding of the perspectives of our potential beneficiaries, we developed a very basic digital prototype of our model that was intended to simulate some of the elements of the "College for America" experience. Using existing networks in Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, and elsewhere in the US, we enquiries to refugee community leaders and youth asking them if they were interested in participating in the feedback phase of our project proposal.

By creating a short competency-based “project” we were able to test whether resettled refugee participants had some of the most basic skills and needs for the program – including access to a computer and internet, adequate computer software, and the time and initiative to participate – as well as elicit feedback on the proposed model and the many challenges faced by would-be refugee college learners. As anticipated, the challenges were many. Not all students had access to or knew how to use PowerPoint software. Most failed to follow the second step of the instructions – sending a link to an article! Although we don’t know our exact response rate, as we encouraged everyone to send on to more people in their networks, we suspect the response was very low – again, expected for a difficult to reach population with busy schedules. Still, the insights from this prototype activity and subsequent feedback were significant.

From the project submissions and survey results, we learned that many of the resettled refugees who were contacted to participate had already attempted to access college-level education at some point. Some were still enrolled, but many others had dropped out after taking a few courses, citing the difficulties of balancing the competing demands of jobs, family, community, ESL study, and integration in a new place. Finances and transport also proved to be significant barriers to attending traditional college programs. Other respondents had investigated the possibility of online education, but found that they lacked the support and motivation to be successful. Still others had found success, whether in community college programs or online degree programs, but still believed that access for higher education remained too limited for their friends and family in the community.

This feedback built on our existing understanding of the many complex challenges – but also opportunities – for resettled refugees who want to pursue further education. It also highlighted the need for diverse models and solutions even within resettled refugee populations. Some learners stressed a need for a physical learning space in order to be successful, while others preferred a no-travel option given transport or childcare restrictions. This means that our model should offer students a variety of options for support and learning, with a focus on developing and maintaining a robust learning and coaching community for all.

Existing Research & Evidence for our Idea

The background research and data for our idea is primarily drawn from an innovative pilot project that was conducted by College for America (CfA) at Southern New Hampshire University. The goal of the pilot was to test a model that maximises success for refugees and could be offered through all resettlement agencies. The initial pilot program produced mixed results, providing evidence of the need to better support refugee learners.

CfA and the International Institute of New England (IINE) entered into a collaboration to deliver associate and bachelor degree programs that would benefit refugees, particularly for new arrivals with foreign degrees that are not accepted by US certification agencies. CfA’s competency-based, flexibly-paced model provides the opportunity for working adults to earn a recognized degree in a very short time and for a very affordable price. The CfA-IINE model envisioned extending the CfA learning coach model to take full advantage of the resources provided by IINE, including ESL classes, mentors and technology facilities. 

The pilot program was launched in August of 2014 with the goal of enrolling a minimum group of ten IINE clients with refugee status, Green Cards or I-94 card as well as those who had recently become citizens. All students were worked towards their Associate of Arts in General Studies with a Concentration in Business. In the pilot program there were two women and four men; all arrived in the US between 2007 and 2014 from countries of origin including Bhutan, Sudan, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, DRC. Fifty percent had some higher education. One is projected to graduate within the next year, two progressed at a steady pace, and the other three have moved more slowly (The ability to set one’s own pace is central to CfA’s self-directed model, with coaches providing encouragement as students move forward).

Insights from the pilot program will go a long way informing future initiatives to improve access to higher education for resettled refugee learners. You can read more about the findings and lessons learned from this pilot in our research phase submission here.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

Our idea is designed for resettled refugee youth and adults in the US who want to pursue higher education but have been unable to access opportunities or succeed in a traditional university model. SNHU's innovative competency-based AA and BA degrees enable learners to proceed at their own pace, offering individualised academic support and on-the-job learning experience. We are reimagining a higher education solution that is as adaptable as the populations that we aim to serve.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student brainstorm
  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We would love to hear about insights and evidence from other initiatives and ideas that have tried to reach resettled refugee learners, as well as different tools or online resources that might support resettled refugee learners to improve their skills and language levels in order to successfully pursue degree at SNHU or elsewhere. Feedback is welcome from all, especially those who have experienced displacement or resettlement directly, as well as people working with these groups.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

To get feedback and suggestions to improve our idea, we will first reach out to resettled refugees in the US, including pilot program participants as well as refugee students who have been resettled from our program in Rwanda. We plan to ask a group of resettled refugee volunteers to participate in an online competency-based "project' that is modelled after our degree platform, to better understand the challenges they face and the support they will need for this idea to be successful.

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm currently working in Rwanda to implement and conduct research on a pilot program for delivering higher education for refugees, a partnership between Southern New Hampshire University and Kepler. My background is primarily in research; I previously worked with the Humanitarian Innovation Project, a team at Oxford University conducting research on refugee innovation and livelihoods. I also worked as a tutor for resettled refugees in Pittsburgh - which sparked my interest in refugee education!

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

Resettled refugees in the USA have incredibly low enrollment and graduation rates in higher education, despite the crucial role that it plays in securing a career and integrating into American society. Our idea is to develop a competency-based program for resettled refugees that combines online coursework with in-person coaching. Learners would work at their own pace toward an accredited AA or BA degree, with the flexibility and tailored support (language, emotional, etc.) needed to succeed.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

Upon arrival in the US, resettled refugees face unparalleled challenges in accessing and completing higher education that could improve their prospects for integration and self-reliance.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

Existing opportunities for refugee higher education include 1) scholarships to traditional college programs and 2) reduced-cost online courses. Campus-based course schedules are incompatible with refugees' busy work lives, and online classes lack in-person support. Both measure progress by attendance hours. Our competency-based solution allows learners to move at their own pace, plus has the flexibility to fit complex schedules and diverse learner needs through face-to-face support and coaching.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We are committed to building a robust evidence base for refugee higher education models. We will focus on monitoring and evaluation for student academic progress and graduation rates, but we will also look closely at post-graduation outcomes including employment, promotions, income, and student satisfaction with their degree. We also want to understand how our program is - and is not - reaching particular learners, and how it can better support successful integration into US society.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

We want to develop a model for higher education that can be scaled to support resettled refugees around the country. The US has taken in over 3 million refugees since 1975, following a long history as a country of asylum and refuge. Building on SNHU's experience developing a competency-based degree for American students struggling to access or complete traditional college programs, we are prepared to support large numbers of refugee learners across the US to pursue their higher education goals.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We want to continue to think through and explore new partnerships and existing innovations to further develop our model for refugee higher ed. We know from experience that partnerships are key to develop successful learning communities and in-person support structures, as well as bridging programs such as language classes. We also have questions around our model design that need further research and prototyping, such as our financial literacy and sustainability model. Then, piloting!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lih-Hann Chiu

Hi Nina,

I would like to propose an approach that might help a resettled refugee obtain the $3,000 tuition required by the College for America.

An income share agreement (ISA) is a financial contract whereby a student can obtain financing for tuition today, and only begins to pay back if and only if he/she begins to generate income above a minimum threshold after the degree is earned. The amount to be payed back is a percentage of that income and only for a fixed number of years.

There are several benefits I see to the resettled refugee student:

1) they get the entire $3,000 up front (like a grant or scholarship), so no need to earn extra money immediately to pay for tuition.

2) this $3,000 is not debt, there is never accrued interest.

3) payment back to the money provider occurs only if the resettle refugee makes a minimum threshold income, so no forced payments if circumstances dire.

4) It aligns the money provider's interest with that of the resettled refugee. The money provider wants the refugee to get a high paying job - otherwise no payments occur. That being said, the contract can be done in such a manner that absolutely prohibits the money provider from unduly influencing the resettled refugee student's choice of career. The money provider can only help in the way the resettled refugee wants.

The success of microfinance organizations like Grameen Bank showed that traditionally underserved populations are extremely financially responsible, and capable of making great impact for themselves while providing a suitable financial return for money providers. In this spirit, the following is an example of how it an ISA might work:

Sponsor provides resettled refugee student ("RRS") with $3,000 for studies at College for America. Terms are that for 10 years after the RRS starts working, 3% of the RRS' post-employment tax income on every paycheck goes to the Sponsor, but only if the student earns at least $25,000 a year.

RRS earns an Associate of Arts in Healthcare Management degree after 1 year and immediately gets a job (perhaps even with the help of the sponsor) as a Medical Assistant with a starting salary of $30,000.

For the next 10 years, the RRS keeps the same job and only takes 1 year off in year 4 to start a family, and goes back to work beginning year 5. The RRS doesn't pay anything to the sponsor that year because the minimum of $25,000 annual income wasn't met.

Using the following assumptions (very conservative):
    - 2% annual pay raise for the RRS
    - 20% tax (RRS takes home 80% of salary after all taxes)
    - 10% discount rate to factor-in investor cost

Under this scenario, the RRS' first year take home income after tax is $24,000 (80% of $30,000 salary), of which $720 (3% of $24,000) is paid to the sponsor. The RRS' last year (year 10) take home income is $29,973 (80% of $37,466 salary), of which $899 (3% of $29,973) is paid to the sponsor.

Over the course of 10 years (of which 1 year no payments are made), the sponsor receives $7,310 in payments from his original $3,000 "investment". That $7,310 is worth $4,420 in present value using 10% discount rate - giving the sponsor a extremely attractive return on investment of 47%.

The sponsor can be an individual, a local employer, or even the College for America - the key is that investing in education for RRSs using such a model can be very profitable.

I recently wrote a working paper that provides much more detail on the subject, including how protections for the student can be built into the contract - which is very important to avoid exploitative behavior.

Very interested in your thoughts.


Lih-Hann Chiu

Photo of Chrystina Russell

Hi Lih-Hann Chiu,

Thank you so much for reaching out. We had a chance to look at your paper, which sounds quite promising in terms of a financial model. We'd really love to learn more about your work and thinking--could we get on a call to discuss further?


Photo of Lih-Hann Chiu

Chrystina - apologies for just getting back to you. I'll reach out to you via LinkedIn to connect and follow-up. I can be found at:

Photo of Nina Weaver

Hi everyone, I just noticed that the link to the user experience map in the body of the text isn't loading properly - so if you want to check out the user experience map, please go to the attachment at the bottom. Many thanks, and sorry about that!

Photo of Gunhad Rangar

Hey Nina,

I am the Director of Finance and Operations at the Hope for Humanity Initiative which is a collegiate community raising funds and awareness for the global refugee crisis. I am currently a third-year student at the New York University Stern School of Business pursuing a degree in Finance, Computing and Data Science.

Now that you know my background, you can understand why such a project matters to me. As a student, I can further relate to the value of an education and the future return on investment it offers.
Additionally, I have been digging deeper into the refugee crisis with my team and analyzing the needs of such refugees. Considering the recent political actions, addressing the safety and development of their community is essential. They are unfortunately forced out of their country because of war, violence, or some other danger. In America, we tend to think of these camps as shields from the violence of the war, stocked with resources to aid incoming victims. Unfortunately, this is usually far from the truth. When we attended our first meeting with USA for UNHCR, we were shocked to learn about the conditions of these camps– a lack of food, water, and medicine, rampant gang and criminal activity as a result of no law enforcement, very little structured education– and yet many of these people live in camps with such conditions for decades. Many children grow up in these camps.

This leads to my questions: how can you provide education to people in refugee camps where they have a shortage of basic necessities? These people would need the most assistance in integrating into the American culture and workforce, which is your primary goal. If such a program would require relevant technological knowledge to access the online portion of the program, how can such refugees access these resources? As you mentioned earlier, they are unable to use powerpoint or the web. This could imply that the knowledge required for such a project may be too high and should be altered for people who need it and would benefit from it the most. On the other hand, I am hopeful that you will obtain partnerships and funding to reduce the financial costs of 3000 dollars annually imposed on the students.

My secondary feedback focuses on the lack of incentivization for the students. It seems evident that they are not motivated enough to participate in such a project, and this problem needs to be addressed. Maybe they are unaware of the impact such a project can have on their lives which should be communicated. It seems likely that such a project could not only change their own lives but also the lives of their communities and future generations to come. Once the initial restrictions have been removed, it has the potential to create virtuous cycles of refugees and encourage them all to participate in such programs. I support the program and am sure there will be a demand for it, but to reach out to all those it would apply to, you will need to make the refugees aware of their own intrinsic motivation and assert the value of an education.

I truly appreciate your mission and the problem you address, and therefore am inclined to help you and provide you with feedback. I wish you the best of luck in the future and hope to solve such important problems through collaboration across platforms such as OpenIdeo!

Photo of Nina Weaver

Hi Gunhad, thanks very much for your thorough message and feedback. It's super interesting that you bring up the need to get education directly to people in refugee camps - that's actually the current pilot that we are working on right now! We are running a degree program for refugees in one of the camps in western Rwanda. It's true that conditions can be awful, but one thing that we've learned is that our students in the refugee camp are super motivated - and awesome with technology! Innocent N. (who commented right below this comment) is in fact one of our students in that program in the camp, and as he says, is about to graduate with his AA degree from SNHU in June. You can read more about the program in Rwanda here, if you are interested:*

To respond to your second point, I think that the motivation issue was specifically related to the prototyping project, which I think is logical - it's always difficult to get response rates when asking busy people to volunteer limited time, for a project that they aren't sure is worth it. These problems would perhaps be compounded with a resettled refugee population, but certainly aren't exclusive to it. It's always important to be respectful of people's time when making such requests, and I think it's difficult to say exactly what the benefits to the people providing feedback voluntarily would be - and it's important to not make false promises! I think instead it can be viewed as an interesting opportunity to get further insights into some of the difficulties and challenges we will face in getting this program off the ground. It won't be easy, but I agree that there will be a lot of demand. Most of the resettled refugee respondents were very aware of the importance and value of higher ed, and extremely motivated - just have been blocked from accessing it due to many complex constraints.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment, I hope you'll continue to follow our projects and work!

Photo of Nina Weaver

Hi Gunhad, thanks very much for your thorough message and feedback. It's super interesting that you bring up the need to get education directly to people in refugee camps - that's actually the current pilot that we are working on right now! We are running a degree program for refugees in one of the camps in western Rwanda. It's true that conditions can be awful, but one thing that we've learned is that our students in the refugee camp are super motivated - and awesome with technology! Innocent N. (who commented right below this comment) is in fact one of our students in that program in the camp, and as he says, is about to graduate with his AA degree from SNHU in June. You can read more about the program in Rwanda here, if you are interested:*

To respond to your second point, I think that the motivation issue was specifically related to the prototyping project, which I think is logical - it's always difficult to get response rates when asking busy people to volunteer limited time, for a project that they aren't sure is worth it. These problems would perhaps be compounded with a resettled refugee population, but certainly aren't exclusive to it. It's always important to be respectful of people's time when making such requests, and I think it's difficult to say exactly what the benefits to the people providing feedback voluntarily would be - and it's important to not make false promises! I think instead it can be viewed as an interesting opportunity to get further insights into some of the difficulties and challenges we will face in getting this program off the ground. It won't be easy, but I agree that there will be a lot of demand. Most of the resettled refugee respondents were very aware of the importance and value of higher ed, and extremely motivated - just have been blocked from accessing it due to many complex constraints.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment, I hope you'll continue to follow our projects and work!

Photo of Ndayambaje Innocent

Last year, the theme of World Refugees Day were" A refugee is a person like you". I connect this with the hard work Nina and Christina made to help refugees to regain their hope though providing the access to high education. I think to get the US accredited degree while you are refugees will reduce pessimism
I hope to graduate soon in June 2017 my AA degree. Through this high education, I hope to reach my dream soon!!!!!!!!
Keep up....

Photo of Nina Weaver

Thanks so much for your feedback, Innocent, and congratulations on being so close to your own graduation. I look forward to continuing to work with you to expand opportunities for higher education to refugees and other disadvantaged learners everywhere!

Photo of Max Noble

Nina Weaver 
I've been thinking about this issue for a year or 2. If you need any help please let me know.
Great Project

Photo of Nina Weaver

Thanks Max! Please do keep following us, we're hoping to continue our work in the refugee higher ed space.

Photo of Priscilla

Hi Nina,
This sounds like a great project, and I think it is very much needed!
I think that the online teaching platform and flexible scalable program sounds perfect for the job.
I also wanted to ask how do you plan on breaking that English as a second-language barrier? Will you be providing English courses as a precursor to the higher education courses?
Also, you mentioned having a flexible model, however I was wondering what specific competencies you were planning on focusing on/providing for?
Again, this sounds like a great project! Best of luck!

Photo of Nina Weaver

Hi Priscilla! The language barrier is for sure one of the biggest challenges. We're hoping to partner with programs and resettlement agencies that are already offering English language programs as part of a pathway to our higher ed program. Our competency-based model is also supportive of students of ESL, since it's possible to resubmit projects many times (based on assessor feedback) in order to "master" the competencies and language. We're also open to new ideas and partnerships around this issue.

Our competency-based model offers significant flexibility because it's not based on seat-time or traditional "credits", in which a student passes or fails a whole course and then has to retake. Our degree program is project based, meaning that students work on and submit projects to demonstrate a mastery of competencies related to a specific project. They can take as much time - or as much time off - on projects as needed, without being penalised or made to re-sit courses. If they do not pass the project with the needed competencies the first time, they are given feedback from our trained academic assessors and then can resubmit the project for additional feedback as many times as needed, before achieving "mastery" of the competencies.

We are still building our degree program offerings, but currently offer BA degrees in Management, Communications, and Healthcare Management, which we hope will appeal to a wide range of students looking to gain employable skills and degrees!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Nina. This is a great initiative and mission!
 A few questions - Where do coaches meet with the students? Did the students in the pilot have opportunities to meet to study together?
I learned about an initiative that is happening in public library spaces where groups of diverse learners meet up while enrolled in online courses to support each other, peer to peer - p2p University. Maybe there is something to learn from this model?
There is an idea posted here designed for non traditional students - PelotonU. In their program coaches meet with students at a designated study space. Students must spend a certain number of hours/week in the space where support is available. Would this approach work with the refugee students you have worked with, in terms of their needs and other commitments?

Would it be helpful for refugees to study alongside local non traditional students who are doing the same program? Could it broaden learning for everyone?

Great project!

Photo of Nina Weaver

Hi Bettina, thanks very much for your comments and questions! In fact, we are hoping to use this grant opportunity to think through the model - or models - that we should use for coaching - we are working with several options right now, and would hope to refine and learn more about the efficacy of each in a pilot phase. Our existing project in Rwanda brings students and instructors (coaches) together everyday in classrooms, which we have found to be extremely effective, but is also not as realistic for the contexts of resettled refugee learners. Our previous pilot at SNHU for resettled refugees did incorporate a physical learning centre space, but encountered a lot of difficulties with students not being able to access it regularly enough due to conflicts with transportation and other commitments, including work and family. The PelotonU model is definitely an inspiration for us. I also like how it has more flexibility than establishing a single learning centre - and I think flexibility is going to be key for our model success here. Some students may benefit a lot from this approach, whereas others will need to have access to more online or remote support. Either way, partnerships are going to be huge for us, and can hopefully inform on some of these outstanding questions!

Also interesting idea re co-study space for local students. Although the competency-based degree program is currently only available through specific projects, it is important to think about the ways that we can use partnerships and co-sharing to make sure that we are supporting integration and learning in the most effective ways possible!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Nina and team,

There is just a week left of refinement. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.

Photo of Nina Weaver

Thanks Kate!

Photo of Bruce Jacobsen

Great project! I'm curious about how it might also help refugees who have a degree or credentials that might not be recognized in the US, say a nursing or engineering expertise. Perhaps some SNHU/CfA courses would allow them to use their pre-existing work.

Photo of Nina Weaver

Thanks Bruce! It would be great if it could be used in this way. The competency-based model is in general designed to advantage students who already have existing education or work experience, as they are able to very quickly "master" skills that they are already using in the real world. For this reason, the degree would be ideal for refugees who are coming with existing degrees and skills - almost as a way to offer degree "equivalency". This of course is limited by the existing degree options that we have through CfA, but we are hoping that more will be available soon!

Photo of Augustin Mugisha

This is a good thing for the promoting the education of refugees.

Photo of Murwanashyaka Abel

Wow, It sound amazing to help refugees in order to pursue higher education

Photo of Habimfura Jackson

Great idea of helping resettled refugees in the tertiary education.

Photo of Ashley Haywood

This is such an important project, thank you for all of your hard work supporting resettled refugee students! Based on the experience of the Kepler project in Kiziba refugee camp, there is a definite need for specialized supports for students who have been resettled. This project is a great opportunity to develop a program to meet the unique needs of resettled students who wish to continue (or begin!) their tertiary education.

Photo of Adam

This is amazing!
It's time to change the conversation around refugees & this sounds like a huge step in the right direction. Education = Opportunity
Thank you to everyone working on this for your dedication!

Photo of Nico

Dear Nina and Chrystina,

This is such a great project and I hope you guys can impact many lives with it. Looking forward to seeing it develop and wishing you guys all the best.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Welcome to the Refinement phase Nina! We've added new Refinement questions to your original submission that we'd love for you to answer. Please check out the Refinement Phase Toolkit for instructions on how to answer the new questions and other recommendations we encourage all idea teams to consider in the upcoming weeks.

Refinement Phase Toolkit:

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 02/01" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Nina,

I hope you are having a nice weekend.

There are a few ideas from previous OpenIDEO challenges that might be of interest to you.

There is an idea called ‘Go Between’ that was in the refinement phase of our food waste challenge. It is a crowdsourcing app to allow food-packaging designers to collect in-depth insights from users, in order to reduce food waste in households. I thought it might interest you because the participants keep a diary of their daily activities so the food-packaging designers can understand the day-to-day habits and challenges for the participants around the food waste issue. It also has a really nice example of a paper based toolkit and a digital prototype.

‘Go Between’:

VETT is a top idea submitted for our challenge on inspiring and engaging young people to support older adults through mentorship. It is an idea to teach veterans how to use industrial machines by teaming them up with younger "makers."

I wonder if might have some ideas.

Photo of Jackson VUGAYABAGABO

Great project! Well done Nina & Chrystina! Very inspiring to see your love and dedication to education, more particularly to the initiatives like this one, targeting refugees.

Photo of Sarah Trent

Keep up the important work, Chrystina and Nina! I'm excited about your proposal and these critical initiatives.

Photo of Carolyn Tarr

This is a fantastic initiative to support people in creating more opportunities upon resettlement!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Nina and Chrystina,

Welcome to the refinement phase, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me by using @ and typing my name.

Take care,


Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Nina,

Thank you for sharing your idea. I just want to be 100% sure I completely understand the idea.

You would like to run a second trial of the program for a bigger cohort adapted based on the feedback from the previous participants. First, you are planning to conduct an online competency project for the potential students to make sure the program meets their needs and fits in around their commitments e.g. paid work.

Have you seen Literacy Speedway: Used “globally" and can be a prototype for FREE education for all courses! It is collaborative, data driven and social! 

It is an online, collaborative, free, multisensory, kinesthetic literacy program for adults learning K-3 English that might be suitable for anyone who needs to improve their level of English.

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Could Micro Credentials for Non-College-Bound Students be useful for resettled refugees?

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I like the idea of subtitles for tv because it is used in FINLAND and they have the highest literacy rates in the world! Their education system is top notch! I just asked a TV company to host a program for Literacy Speedway and subtitles would be a viable addition.

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Micro-credentials could for sure be a great resource for resettled refugees, and a way to extend opportunities for further education. There is a lot of evidence that indicates that micro-credentials work best when they are stackable and lead to opportunities to gain more complex skills or fully-fledged degrees. We are totally interested in exploring ways to build micro-credentials into our existing work, and have done some initial exploration of this with our pilot program in Rwanda. Thanks for sharing the link!

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Hi Kate, to respond to your first post, yes you are correct! In the initial phase we want to build upon the evidence that we have from the first pilot program. We will test a prototype of an online competency course to understand more specifically the challenges faced by resettled refugee students in terms of language barriers, and technology and time constraints. We also want to conduct further investigation to better understand the ways in which more traditional higher education experiences - both brick-and-mortar or remote programs - is working or not working for students by doing focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with students who either are or have previously been enrolled in higher education degree programs, such as community colleges. We then want to use this to build and test a new model of competency-based higher education for resettled refugee populations, which will hopefully involve an expanded pilot program!

I'm really intrigued by the Literacy Speedway project. One of the biggest challenges that we face in our program is language barriers, and in our international work we have found that partnering with other organisations who can provide targeted and contextualised preparation programs - including language support - is the best way to prepare students for success in our program. Looking forward to continuing this conversation with Mary Ressler!

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Your competency-based degree offers to refugee learners exactly what it offers to the single-mom struggling to make ends meet, or the low-income student trying to get a degree while keeping up with two jobs. Flexibility. Life happens, and and not everyone has the financial capital (or financially secure relatives capable of supporting them) to put it off for a few years while studying. Obviously, such is the case for many people resettled to the US as refugees. Hoping this idea moves ahead and changes the opportunity horizons of those who seek asylum on US shores.

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Thanks Cory! We're really looking forward to the opportunity to test out more ideas with resettled refugee populations who need flexible education. You're so right that it will be designed to support single mothers and others who struggle in traditional education models, but remain dedicated to furthering their education

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Hi Nina, Thanks for the idea post! It'd be helpful to learn a bit more about how this idea would work by adding more content to the Full Description part of your post. To update your post, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to your Full Description field. Then click Save after you're done updating!

Is there any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

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Hi Kate, many thanks! We had published before fully completing the proposal, but hope that it provides a lot more information and context now. Looking forward to hearing your feedback and thoughts!