Our idea 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 US-accreditation and the focus on professional skills development ensures 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 means that we can now make comprehensive, context-sensitive, and scalable higher education opportunities available for resettled refugees.
Resettled refugees face many pressures after arriving to the US, and often struggle to integrate or to find meaningful employment. Most refugees begin working low-skill jobs to support their families immediately after arrival, and many struggle with the difficulties of speaking English as a second language in a foreign new country. As a result, resettled refugees often struggle to integrate amid these competing demands, and few are able to access opportunities or find the time commitment for study in higher education institutions. Refugee learners who manage to study in higher education institutions, including community colleges, often struggle to complete their degrees or to stay in school due to the lack of individualised academic support, inflexible learning models, and high costs.
Yet many refugees - of all ages - are interested in pursuing further education on arrival to the US, and many arrive with some high school or tertiary education experience. In addition, there is strong evidence to suggest that expanding opportunities for resettled refugees to access AA & BA degrees supports them developing a solid foundation of employment skills and qualifications and establishing roots in a new country. A recent US report noted that policymakers need to improve access to education and mainstream jobs for resettled refugees.
It is evident that a traditional university learning model is not adequate for many resettled refugee learners - and this is also the case for many other learners as well. 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.
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 ended with mixed results, that pointed strongly to 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 that the Institute provides 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 country 2007—2014 and countries of origin include Bhutan, Sudan, Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, DRC. 50% had some higher education. One is projected to graduate within the next year, two progressed at a steady pace while the other three are moved more slowly. (The ability to set one’s own pace is part of CfA’s self-directed model, with coaches encouraging students in moving forward.)
Learnings from the pilot program were mixed, and will go a long way toward improving 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.