What if we designed a college program around the needs of non-traditional students instead of forcing their complex lives into a system that graduates only 16% of its part-time students.
With 95% of jobs created in the US since the recession requiring a degree - and the expectation that 60% of all jobs in Texas will require the same by 2020 - the need for college graduates is urgent. Americans know their future is brighter with a college degree - so thousands enroll each year but end up dropping out, because college wasn’t built for them, even though they’re the students who benefit from a degree the most.
Increasingly, students without a degree, can’t earn a liveable wage, change careers, get a promotion into management, or provide provide for their families.
Yet the answer isn’t as simple as just “going back to school” - the barriers they first faced have only become more imposing with time.
Historically in higher education, innovation has simply been layered on top of the existing system of credit-hour courses and semesters. Students who work, commute and attend part-time need a better pathway to their degree, but most programs just add services alongside this traditional structure rather than rethinking college for working adults.
Working adults need flexibility and support in a college pathway. We think the solution is to blend competency-based online education with personalized, in-person support to consistently graduate students without insurmountable debt.
Competency-based, regionally-accredited, non-profit online degrees seem best suited for non-traditional students, because they are the most flexible option for folks who have to work full-time to pay their bills. Students can earn workforce-aligned credentials in half the time and at 20% of the cost on a schedule that work for them.
But the key to success is community and student support— something two-year institutions particularly struggle with. Returning adults have already failed once at college and often believe that they can’t be successful. They need individualized support— someone to cheer them on, help navigate the complexities of school and work, and to help get back on track when they fall behind.
We think a program needs to fill those gaps and focus on three high-impact activities: meeting weekly with an advisor to analyze progress, setting weekly academic deadlines, and studying in the office with peers.