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College Built For Non-Traditional Students [Final Update - 2.27.17]

Non-traditional students will be able to earn their degree when high-quality online universities are combined with in-person coaching.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
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The Problem

45 million American adults have some college and no degree. 

With 95% of jobs created in the US since the recession going to folks with a college 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.

The obstacles are real: students without a degree struggle to earn a livable wage, change careers, get a promotion into management, or 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.

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?


Enter Pelotonu

Few people are tackling this problem for nontraditional students, but working adults need flexibility and support in a college pathway.

We've seen that an effective solution is to blend competency-based online education with personalized, in-person support to consistently graduate students without insurmountable debt.

Why Competency-Based Online Education? 

We send students only to schools that are competency-based, regionally-accredited, non-profit, and online. Here's why: 

  • They are the most flexible option for folks who have to work full-time to pay their bills - students can work on school when they're able. 
  • Students can earn workforce-aligned credentials
  • They afford students a faster way to earn their degree
  • Degrees are much more affordable - a year at College for America costs $3000 for unlimited credits. 


Why In-Person Support? 

The key to success is community and student support— something two-year institutions currently struggle with. Returning adults have already failed once at college and often believe that they can’t be successful.

  • Students need individualized support— someone to cheer them on and help navigate the complexities of school and work
  • Students need consistent accountability - they need someone checking on their progress and helping them get back on track when they fall behind.
  • Students need community to show them what's possible, offer and receive help, and support them. 

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

We designed our idea for nontraditional students - folks who are older than 24, commute, or attend part-time - and they now comprise over half of college students in the United States. The numbers add up fast - 45 million Americans adults have some college credit but no degree (Census Bureau). This reimagines higher education because non-traditional students are the norm for tomorrow’s colleges. We’re proposing a total overhaul of how college is structured, built for their needs.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

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

Here in Central Texas, we have a good understanding of the college barriers facing working adults and the industry verticals and aligned degrees where a college degree proves meaningful. What about elsewhere? We'd also love advice on how to teach other people to build programs like ours for their community. Why are students struggling to complete college where you live? Do working adults need a degree to find good jobs in your community? Who could run a pilot to trial this model elsewhere?

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

Since 2014, we have experimented with combining competency-based online college education with in-person support. On January 23, 9 students will begin an academic orientation to test whether this strategy of support proves effective for their academic goals and personal contexts. If six students (67% conversion) are ready to start college March 1st, the experiment will prove effective. UPDATE FEB 27, 2017 - Currently, 6 students are set to start college on 3/1/17!

Tell us about your work experience:

My passion for college completion has grown over my ten year career in education and leadership. First as a high school history teacher in Brownsville, Texas and then as a social studies teacher, team leader, manager, assistant principal and then principal at KIPP. Now, I hope to leverage the charter school approach - provide better options, prove the possible, and pressure traditional schools - to higher education so that anyone with the will and drive can earn a college degree.

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

Today’s college student has changed - she's now a non-traditional student older than 24, commuting to college, or attending part-time - but college hasn’t changed with her. These students need a new college pathway that's flexible and supportive so they can actually graduate. That's what PelotonU does - we blend the best of online education with the best of in-person support to make sure working adults can succeed.

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

Working adults - like the 45 million American adults who have some college and no degree- want a degree but have no pathway that works for their complex lives.

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

Many organizations work in college completion, but we differ in 3 key ways. 1. We serve working adults returning to college. They support students who enroll directly from high school. 2. We value flexibility and workplace-aligned degrees by working with high-quality online universities. They support students in traditional colleges. 3. Our model works in communities with limited access to college - all that’s needed is WiFi and a Chromebook. They depend on existing infrastructure.

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

We measure impact in 2 ways: success for students at PelotonU, and support of new, like-minded partners nationwide. We measure success by student persistence, completions and debt. Persistence is the percent of students who start college and stay until completion. Our 80% rate is five times the part-time average. We’ve seen 17 completions, and no PelotonU student has graduated with debt. Nationally, we plan to launch 80 like-minded organizations serving 11,000 students within 5 years.

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

To scale, we will launch 80 partners of a similar size and mission, but contextualized to their community. To do this, we'll need 3 tools: 1. the process and standards to identify, screen and select partners to launch new locations 2. a training program to support the launch of new locations 3. an on-going support system and effectiveness measures to ensure each location is supporting college completion for their students.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We’ve proven our model in Austin, and will grow enrollment to sustain ongoing operations. Next, we’re focused on training new partners who will offer a similar pathway for their own communities. We’re building a consulting practice to teach partners - including non-profits, community colleges, and employers - how to weave online education and coaching into their communities, and would love help from the IDEO community!

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Photo of David Smith
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Photo of John
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The college is doing a great deed by offering the thousands of students a chance to earn their degree through distance education. Usually most of the distance education courses are purely online. but i like the fact the the college has adjusted its curriculum to support a certain degree of in class learning as well. Great article. http://www.howtofixprinterissues.com

Photo of Andrea Zelenak
Team

Hi Sarah!
You should check out A Competency-Based Extracurricular Program !
My sister is a life coach, I see the effects of having someone rooting for you/helping you figure out your life instead of quitting. SO many people from my college dropped out, quite a few came back eventually...but when there is money involved it's hard to "waste time" if it isn't something you enjoy or feel could go towards a career. One of my friends dropped out and never went back because he couldn't spend the money on something he hated. If he had someone find the right fit for him, I think he would have changed course!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks for the link! Looks really interesting! And yes - it's so hard to feel like school doesn't have a really clear "point" in your life - we see that is sometimes a struggle for our younger students, but most returning adults have figured out WHY they care that they have a degree ... and it definitely makes a difference in their persistence.

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Photo of Ryan Sodeberg
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This is a very good idea since the main problem of students - the lack of time in connection with the work - has been brewing for a long time. After all, colleges have not changed for students. And such a project is very important. Now there are also many services that help and solve different problems of students, such as https://assignment.essayshark.com/physics-help.html. All the same, while the traditional education is more widespread and it should be borne in mind, but positive changes are not far off.

Photo of Terry Hosler
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Sarah,
Congratulations on being one of the Final Five!  Well deserved!  I love the idea and would really like to follow your development.  This might work well for some programs here in Kentucky and rural Appalachia as well.  My passion is with student advisement.

I think the emphasis on credentialed programs is critical and normally a real problem with the vast and highly publicized 'on-line' proprietary 'colleges' out there.

Photo of Chrystina Russell
Team

Hi Sarah,

As you know, I am such a fan of Peleton and your work! I love that you are thinking about scale and a training model to get to more locations. I'd be curious to hear more about how you train your team at Peleton, and what the "essentials" and "extras" might be in terms of how you'll scale out the model. It would be awesome to discuss this more in depth whenever you might have some time!
Chrystina

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Chrystina - It's so great to hear from you! Let's get back in touch - I'm sarah@pelotonu.org - I've got more thoughts on this topic than can fit in 5000 characters :)

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Congratulations!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much, Kate - and thanks for all your help and connections during the process! We're honored to be a Top Idea and excited for how we can potentially help more working adults return to college around the country.

Photo of Colin Parmalee
Team

Hi Sarah,

I think this is a really good idea, especially given the growing need for a college-educated workforce, as you mentioned. I noticed you mentioned one difficulty was finding and convincing students that had some college to sign up for your program.

I was curious if you've considered partnering with companies directly as a way to reach out to employees, and potentially help keep costs low (by offering scholarships or tuition assistance to employees, or providing them pathways to advancement after successful completion of a degree). As an example, Starbucks recently rolled out a program that helped employees achieve a bachelor's degree at no cost to the employee. Employers (especially larger ones) have a large pool of employees with some college, and a number of incentives to help them complete their degree. Additionally, it might help employees finish their degree and provide them an opportunity to advance further in their career.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Colin,

Thanks for checking us out! We have (and do) partner with employers directly, but it hasn't gained the traction we initially anticipated - it takes longer to get the partnerships off the ground than we thought, then internal communication within the company can be iffy, and then when we've gotten through that it's led to only a handful of students. We're running some experiments to see how we can make the partnerships more effective, but if you've got any suggestions on how to approach B2B communication here, we'd welcome it!

Happy Friday,
Sarah

Photo of Colin Parmalee
Team

Hi Sarah,

Fair point, I'm sure it's difficult to find companies and formulate partnerships, especially with red tape within companies and potential reluctance of employees to go back into a program. I would suggest two avenues. One, it seems like it would be easier to approach the largest companies in the area, since they have the largest single pool of potential students. Two, I think one potential draw for a company is knowing what their employees might be learning, and perhaps an opportunity to collaborate with your organization to help craft coursework to reflect skills a company wants its employees to have. A company might be more inclined to recommend employees for the program, assist with tuition, and ensure employees finish the coursework if they think it will have a material benefit to them. Just a thought, good luck!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Colin! I think both those are great ideas - especially figuring out how to really match what students / employees are learning to the needs of the employer. Happy Wednesday!

Photo of Essma
Team

This is a very very interesting and unique idea - love it! It fills such a critical gap where higher education isn't effectively serving the 45 million American adults you are referencing. Though there are already a few online colleges in place, and several top universities that offer online classes. How do you see PelotonU differentiating itself from these universities (especially the top-ranking universities that offer online classes)?


As for the affordability aspect, many online universities are for-profit entities, so it's definitely noteworthy that you are making PelotonU a nonprofit entity, so it remains affordable for students. However there are several nonprofit universities that are also extremely overpriced (i.e. the nation's most expensive university is nonprofit: New York University). What other measures do you anticipate PelotonU will take to ensure it stays affordable for students?

Thank you! Looking forward to hearing your feedback!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Essma,

Great questions - and thanks for reading about us!

I think the biggest differentiator is that we are not a college ourselves - we partner with online programs if they meet our criteria and help us achieve our mission. Our criteria is that they have to be non-profit, regionally-accredited and competency-based. Right now, that narrows the field significantly, as most universities are simply taking their traditional curriculum and putting it online rather than designing the curriculum for online (or for working adults). When you take these criteria and then also look at our mission, we are strong believers in students being able to graduate debt-free - so that means we aren't likely to end up sending our students to schools that charge top dollar. Ensuring that we only partner with schools that are affordable is a vital part of our program - and one of the reasons why our students are such big fans of College for America out of Southern New Hampshire University - their tuition is only $3000 for a whole year, and students are able to earn as many credits as they can in that time.

Thanks so much for your questions and feedback!

Best,
Sarah

Photo of Ashley Sun
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Hi Sarah,

I love your idea and how passionate you are about focusing individual attention on a neglected group of the college market! My only question for you is what exactly the "in-person support" entails. Since the students you are focusing on are also working, I'm sure they are very busy and would need to move their schedule around to accommodate this support. To that end, the quality of the support provided to them is vital because it is the only personalized individual attention they are receiving. Furthermore, have you considered adding a community aspect to your idea, where students can connect with one another? As a college student myself, I have found that having a community to support me in achieving my goals has been a vital part of my experience, and I think it is important that these working students also have that same support.

Best of luck on your idea! I really love what you are doing!

Ashley

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Ashley! Thanks for your encouragement and questions!

Regarding our expectations for "in person support," we start (almost) all students with the same set of weekly expectations: 12 hours in the office working on school, one 30 minute meeting with your advisor, and schoolwork deadlines. As a student gets used to being in school and working at the same time - AND shows regular success in school - we'll start to reduce the hours in the office and the frequency of the meeting with their advisor. The school deadlines never go away, but the student begins to "lead" on setting her deadlines each week and then the advisor's role is to be more "accountability buddy." If and when a student starts to get off track on school, we'll then head the other direction - we'll start to increase meeting frequency and/or hours in the office to help the student get back on track. In all of this, though, we still try to be pretty flexible and personalize it to each student as we get to know them.

You're absolutely right on the community part - that's a big reason why we have students come to a study space and start our program in cohorts! What have you seen is the most effective way your college has built community for you? Where are the places (or what are the groups) that help you feel most supported?

Thanks again!
Sarah

Photo of Evelyn Mendez
Team

I love PelotonU and for what they stand for. I'm so grateful for them.❤

Photo of Emilie Yeager
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I love what you guys are doing.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much for your encouragement, Emilie!

Photo of Jen Lewis
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Really excited about the good work you're doing to both offer higher education to non-traditional students as well as reinvent what education can look like. Keep up the good work!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much Jen! We're really hoping for that whole "reinvent education" part. Grateful for your support!

Photo of Suzanne Saxton-Frump
Team

PelotonU is a fantastic program, whose students have an incredibly high success rate.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much, Suzanne!

Photo of Morgan King
Team

Love what this organization is doing!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much, Morgan! We're grateful for your support.

Photo of Brandon
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Great idea! Really impressed with how you are able to help students on such an individual level.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much, Brandon! We appreciate your encouragement.

Photo of Robert Frump
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Go Peloton! You're making a difference.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Robert! We appreciate your support.

Photo of Kaiying Chen
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Hi Sarah,

I love the ideas you have thus far and think that the target market you have is very much in need. I do have a question about why you chose to focus on a competency-based education, rather than a typical college education? I understand that maybe some part-time students who are older would benefit more from a competency-based education, but do you foresee PelotonU being accepted by employers as an actual degree?

On another note, I think it's wonderful that you care so much about a student's development and their progress. Have you considered instituting a badge/rewards system to motivate students who may not have as much intrinsic motivation?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Kaiying,
Thanks so much for your questions and encouragement!

You bring up a good point around employers accepting degrees, but we've seen that a few things are true. First, any stigma that remains around non-traditional college is aimed more at online school rather than competency-based education. The beauty (I think) of CBE is that because the programs are so focused on skills, our students graduate truly having learned quite a bit - and in our students' preferred program (College for America), with a portfolio of work to demonstrate their abilities. We're still early in our program, so I can't say with confidence there will be no obstacles here, but we think that generally our students will be able to navigate this area successfully. Second, College for America specifically built their program to promote workforce readiness for each of their Bachelor and Associate's programs - and in fact, their main sources of students ARE employer-parternships. That also excites us. And finally, the CBE space is looking to explode over the next few years. There's over 600 universities either developing or seriously considering developing CBE programs - including the University of Texas right here in our state! We're hopeful, too, that the momentum around CBE will ease any possible concerns from future employers of CBE grads.

You raise a great idea around badges/rewards to promote motivation for some students. I've struggled to figure out how to do this in a way that appeals to ALL ages (and not just younger students). Any resources you could point me too or cool examples you've seen of people who do this for adults?

Thanks so much! -Sarah

Photo of Adrien
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Hi Sarah,

I think this is a great idea. Given the statistics and background that you provide, it is clear that many students would benefit from a service such as the one you propose. Many students consistently struggle with the current college model and what you're proposing would be a great step towards increasing completion rates for undergraduates. Overall, your idea seems well thought out and full of potential.

My only issue with your idea surrounds the actual interest that your service will garner for potential returning students. I think that for those consumers to be interested in your service you will have to prove - and demonstrate - the value beforehand. Considering many will have had a bad college experience, you will have to show them that what you are providing is going to help them through it this time. In that light, I think that the community you build will be your strongest ally. Your consumers will need to feel like they belong to something, and you will have to create this sense. I think that you are going to make some important choices such as the degree to which the community will be online based, and the degree to which students will be able to interact with one another, in order to optimise the platform.

I also think it is important for you to demonstrate the importance of having someone looking over your shoulder, because this is the aspect of your service which will truly enable students to succeed with their studies. The advisors which you will eventually hire will need to be engaging because ultimately they will the tangible example of what you are offering. Even if the service is great, having bad advisors will destroy the value because students will not be engaged.

Overall I really believe in your idea and I am sure that you will succeed, given that you are able to balance, and optimise the different forces. If students are happy with their experience on PelotonU, you will have effectively a great resource!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Adrien!
You nailed it on the head: the single biggest challenge is helping students believe that college IS possible for them, and that we can play a big role in that. When you speak of community, are you thinking from an internal, persistence perspective (aka the student has already joined, and community will help them stick with it), or from an external, recruiting perspective (aka the student hears about us through our community or the general community and is more likely to believe PelotonU works because it comes from a trusted source)? Or both? Would love your thoughts on how we could leverage the power of community. Happy Monday! Sarah

Photo of Quincy KK
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Hi Sarah,

I have a background as a professional athlete, but am now a full-time college student. I've seen a lot of friends try to pursue a college degree, while simultaneously competing in their sport (freestyle snowboarding in particular, which isn't NCAA), and also friends who have now retired, want a college degree, but don't feel they have the time to pursue a full-time four year program. For one, it's hard to prioritize academics, but mostly they don't feel traditional online post-secondary gives them enough of a support system. As a result, they begin to feel unmotivated because of the lack of guidance and community. Some of them end up dropping out as they decide to focus on athletics, others I've seen bounce around from traditional college to a variety of online institutions, and they lose tons of credits and tuition along the way.

I think an institution like PelotonU is a great idea to provide a happy medium between the two not, just for athletes, but mature students in general. My mother didn't get her bachelor's degree until she was in her 40s and I know it was by no means easy as she raised kids and supported her family.

I'm curious how much is expected from students in terms of "in-person support" -- Is there a mandated amount of hours students need to complete, or is it more of a need-based system?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Quincy,

Man, thanks so much for sharing both your story and what you've seen! And my goodness, tell your mom "congrats!" And we're glad to hear that you think a program like ours could work for diverse sets of students.

Regarding our expectations for "in person support," we start (almost) all students with the same set of weekly expectations: 12 hours in the office working on school, one 30 minute meeting with your advisor, and schoolwork deadlines. As a student gets used to being in school and working at the same time - AND shows regular success in school - we'll start to reduce the hours in the office and the frequency of the meeting with their advisor. The school deadlines never go away, but the student begins to "lead" on setting her deadlines each week and then the advisor's role is to be more "accountability buddy." If and when a student starts to get off track on school, we'll then head the other direction - we'll start to increase meeting frequency and/or hours in the office to help the student get back on track. In all of this, though, we still try to be pretty flexible and personalize it to each student as we get to know them. What do you think? Could this work as much for athletes as for hardworking moms like yours?

Best,
Sarah

Photo of Priscilla
Team

Hi Sarah,
I think this is an excellent idea, especially in such a fast-paced world.
Having attended college, I understand how difficult it might be to stay focused and motivated- I can imagine this is especially so for adult students- and I think the individualized support is a great idea to motivate the students.
However, i do have some questions, considering that most of the adult students probably have jobs and other commitments- would the individual motivational program (meeting with the counselor, etc.) on a weekly basis be flexible to the schedule of the student?
Also may I suggest building a tighter community amongst the students to create motivation. Often I feel that peers are a greater source of motivation rather than a counselor or an advisor.
Best of luck!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Priscilla,

Thanks for taking the time to read about our program and offer your input! You're totally right on - for folks with full lives, especially our adult students, it's imperative that our program be highly individualized. And it is! Students are in charge of their schedules with us, both regarding when they come to the office and when they meet with their counselor. We try to keep the expectations high, but tailor them as needed for a student AND let the student guide the path they take to meet the expectations.

You're also spot on regarding community. This has been one of the more challenging components to build, for a couple reasons. The first is what you already pointed out - our students' lives are VERY full, and their schedules are often different each week, meaning they might or might not see the same peers each week. The second is that, quite honestly, it's just not "cool" when staff tries to do it - feels a bit like your mom telling you to be friends with someone when you're in middle school. Our students are definitely building organic community with our more subtle support, but I'd love any suggestions you have on how we can improve here!

Happy Monday,
Sarah

Photo of Rosalyn Lin
Team

To answer the question as to whether working adults need a degree to find good jobs in my community, I would say yes, but that also might change depending on what you consider to be a "good job." I think it's also important to realize that finding a "good job" can often be dependent on the degree that's been earned (i.e. the age-old debate of liberal arts versus STEM).

I also think that something particularly helpful for a program like this (with the end goal being getting a "good job") would be things like resume and networking workshops. As someone graduating college quite soon, I've found that that a lot of students graduating from college often struggle to find a "good job" because (a) they have weak resumes and more importantly, (b) not enough connections--at the end of the day (particularly when recruiting for traditional corporate jobs in my experience), who you know can often be more important that what you know or what you've done.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks so much, Rosalyn! You're right on - a degree often isn't sufficient by itself to get a "good job," especially depending on where you live. Another interesting trend we've seen is how diverse our students reasons are for getting a degree - for our younger students, they're more in the "good job" camp. But for some of our older students, they've actually built pretty solid careers but have hit a ceiling and can't be promoted until they have a college degree. We're learning a lot about how to tailor our coaching and support for students based on their different reasons for coming back to college, which is great, but can also lead to us feeling pulled in many different directions. What would you think of building a network of volunteers who could help with resume-building and networking - would that be good support for students who want that help, or do you think it's better or more effective if it's trained staff?

Photo of Rosalyn Lin
Team

Hi Sarah,

Your question is tough because as you mentioned, it can be really hard to tailor coaching and support for such a diverse set of students! Even at my school where we have so many clubs that host events for resume workshopping and networking practice, there is still a frustratingly (and kind of oddly?) high number of students who still feel like they do not have great access to those resources and support. This is an issue that I myself am actively engaged in this semester to try to help solve--I feel like there's just no reason for anyone to have a shoddy resume or basic interview/networking skills!

That being said, I think building a network of volunteers who can help with resume-building and networking might be most helpful--especially if the network can somehow be grouped off into interest sectors (e.g. networking and interview prep for investment banking is very different from that of computer science or consulting or doing bizdev for a startup).

I feel that for younger students (or any student, including older ones, who want to move into a new industry), it's really important and valuable to get advice and guidance from someone who's really in the weeds and has gone through a similar recruiting process to the one that we plan to embark on. If the volunteers are people who are already established in their career or field, connecting the volunteers with students already begins to build a solid and organic networking base for the students. But this suggestion also makes me wonder about motivation and incentive for volunteers as well as quality control.

However, for older students who've hit a ceiling in their careers and simply need a degree in order to be promoted, I think having a more centralized trained staff to access would be more helpful since the college application and graduation process is much more formulaic and consistent than recruiting for specific jobs in specific industries.

These are just my thoughts/opinions/observations based on my personal recruiting and college experience though! Would love to hear if you've seen or observed anything different or contrary to this.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Rosalyn - this is great. I think this comment "That being said, I think building a network of volunteers who can help with resume-building and networking might be most helpful--especially if the network can somehow be grouped off into interest sectors (e.g. networking and interview prep for investment banking is very different from that of computer science or consulting or doing bizdev for a startup)" is particularly helpful, and could potentially kill a couple birds with one stone (both networking AND resume development AND even interviewing, as those can all vary by industry).

And amen to this "I feel like there's just no reason for anyone to have a shoddy resume or basic interview/networking skills!" I'm hopeful that we'll continue to help our students at all stages of their careers and lives excel in this area as we, too, grow and get better.

Thanks again for taking the time to offer your input! I really appreciate it.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Sarah and team,

There are a few hours left in the refinement phase if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Kate! We just made a few final updates, but no questions on our end.

Photo of Caitlin Dean
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I think this model tackles a lot of issues facing anyone pursuing a college degree. The traditional full-time model is becoming increasingly beyond the means of most people. By vetting institutions for quality competency based learning, providing students with the in person support missing from much of today's options, AND targeting debt free graduation its an empowering option that puts the student's educational goals first. I'd love to see PelotonU given the juice it needs to bring this to other communities and to support institutions in increasing their graduation rates among part time students. I am specifically wanting to see how this can be brought to New Mexico.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks for the encouragement! We'd love to figure out how to get to New Mexico, too.

Photo of Patrick Crawford
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As a participant of the program and someone who not only just earned their associates, but will be beginning my bachelors next month, I know this program works. As this idea catches on, how do you envision demand growing, and what are the challenges to meeting those goals?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks for your support Patrick! We're so proud of you.

Photo of Yash
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Hi Sarah,

I think your idea is incredibly timely considering the changes that are going on within the economy. Even more so, considering the number of non-college degree jobs that are disappearing due to widespread automation. After reading your post, it seems like there are two points that are essential to the success of your program - the independence in terms of time and location for students to learn and the continued in-person support for the students. This reminded me of a technology-driven teaching method known as 'flipped learning' -- where the lecture becomes homework and class time is for practice. I believe that if you tie up with local Universities, many of which that already provide on-line courses, and convince them to host weekly meet-up sessions for students there is a much larger potential to scale this project. I believe that some charter schools are currently trying this method with Khan Academy - it might be worth to explore this possibility.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Yash! That's a really interesting idea, to connect with local universities and convince them to add an in person - we've been focused only on competency-based online programs thus far, but it could be a good experiment to run to see if the in-person support is as effective in traditionally-structured online classes!

Photo of Holly Boerner
Team

So excited for this work that tackles an important challenge from a new, smart perspective!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Holly! We're grateful for your support.

Photo of Joel Nicholson
Team

Sarah, what a fantastic idea. I was wondering how you envision your growth strategy rolling out? What's the biggest inhibitor from rapid expansion?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Joel! A couple things on rapid expansion. First, we think one of the ingredients in the "secret sauce" if you will is that our program is small - so though we want to continue growing in Austin, we don't think we'll ever be larger than about 300 active students. That being said, we do want to teach as many people as possible how to run programs like ours but contextualized to the needs of their community.

For that expansion, a couple things inhibit us (and are areas we hope IDEO can help!) - one is quite simply, is there demand? Are there people out there ready to launch programs like ours, and are there students who need it? We think so, but we need to go about validating demand. The second is building the right scaling tools - how do we select partners, how do we train them, and then how do we support them once they've launched?

Ya know, easy stuff :)

Photo of Joel Nicholson
Team

Very exciting. I definitely think there's a demand for this kind of thing. I notice you mentioned Austin. I'll be in town for SXSW Edu. Will you be around Mar 5-11? Perhaps we can catch up in person!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Yes! That would be awesome - want to connect outside the platform? I'm sarah@pelotonu.org

Photo of Kate Rushton
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Hi Sarah and team,

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

Photo of David Thompson
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As a former high school teacher, I love what y'all are doing at PelotonU! This is an incredible way to re-imagine and approach higher ed.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, David! We're so grateful for your support and encouragement. -Sarah and Hudson

Photo of Kate Rushton
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Hi Sarah!

It is great to see you in the ideas phase. Is this program Pelontonu - www.pelotonu.org? Does this link to your research post College that Works for Clay ?

What are the future directions for Pentonu? What are your biggest barriers? What projects would you like to get involved in but are currently unable to do so?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Kate! Sorry for the slow response - January has been a busy month around here. That is our program - and it connects to the College that Works for Clay post.

We have a few futures in mind - one is here, in Austin, where we want to grow to serve about 300 students actively at any given time. But we also think a big part of our students' success has been that the program is small and very personalized - so we don't want to get TOO big. That means we're really invested in teaching other folks how to do what we do, but allowing them to contextualize it to their communities.

Some barriers: we're recruiting folks who have tried college before (usually) and dropped out - and many of them have decided that college isn't for them. Because of this, we think, it continues to be a struggle to find as many students as we want to join the program. For example - there's 255,000 adults in the Austin area with some college and no degree - folks who have shown interest before in earning a degree, but never finished. Theoretically, we're a great fit for them! But when it comes to actually finding those students, convincing them to go back to college - and to go through our new, "different" program, it can be pretty challenging. We know there's got to be a better way, but we don't know what it is yet!

We'd also love help finding people in other communities who would want to start programs like ours. We think this is the way to making a big change in higher education. We're currently training IDEA public schools to launch a program like ours in August, and we'd love more partners.

Any thoughts on recruitment or like-minded organizations? Let me know if you have any questions about what I shared!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Sarah.
How are current students finding out about the program?
In terms of recruitment, have you considered partnering locally with different industries as a way to recruit students into your program? ex) the healthcare industry where there might be a variety of job positions and workers who can advance within their current work place, if they had a bachelor's degree.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hey Bettina Fliegel - great question. We spend most of our time thinking about recruitment these days (if you want a deep dive, I can explain our three key customer personas)

Big picture, students come from employers, non-profits, current students, and friends of the program (in that order). We've thought lots about partnering with employers, and have learned a good bit over the past two years. Namely, we're a good fit for companies with entry-level staff, opportunities for promotion with a degree, and a culture of investing in their talent. Our biggest partners are currently the City of Austin and Travis County, with another dozen local employers sending a student or two per year.

Healthcare brings up a great question, which is degrees. Some degrees are great in CBE programs, some are still best earned in a classroom (including most in the STEM field). We can offer a great Healthcare Management degree, but Nursing (because of the clinical side) needs a brick and mortar university. We're confident the availability and quality of degrees will continue to improve over the next couple years.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Sarah!
Congrats on moving into refinement. Interesting when I was thinking about healthcare settings I was thinking about the variety of jobs that exist within these settings, not about healthcare provider roles. In hospitals and health centers there are many jobs- clerical, medical records, customer service/patient relations/patient advocates and escorts, human resources, and financial - book keeping, payroll, medical billing that exist to support an institution's mission to provide access to healthcare. Many jobs do not require college degrees, only high school or GED. Some such as X-ray tech, or medical assistant require specific certifications.
In many institutions jobs are advertised internally first but education level might limit one from advancing. Examples: If someone works in patient relations and enjoys this type of encounter maybe they would aspire to become a social worker? Maybe one working in the billing department aspires to study business, or accounting? Would your model be appropriate for these individuals?

What is a CBE program?

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Sure, I would like to learn about the 3 personas!
What is your business model?

From your comment to Kate Rushton  above about your partnership with IDEA public schools:
I looked at their website and see that they are K-12 Charter Schools where "100 % of students are college bound." What is the nature of your partnership? Is it for their graduates, or is it that they will serve adults going back to college like you are at PelotonU?
I wonder if you might find potential PelotonU students amongst parents/family members of Idea Public School students?

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Sarah,

There are a few people in this challenge who might have a better handle on the organisations you could reach out to. They are:

Kate Ford - https://challenges.openideo.com/profiles/584dbb40313751950a25d2be1481489217957

The poster of Real Talk: MDC - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/future-of-highered/ideas/real-talk-mdc

Lauren - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/future-of-highered/research/interview-with-2nd-year-community-college-student

Do your current students and past students act as ambassadors and recruit people in their network to your program?

Photo of Terry Hosler
Team

Hi Sarah,
Your idea is very similar in service to mine 'Class Roll' with the principle difference, I think, in that your 'in-person' support is campus based vs mobile in mine.  Is yours linked with a single university for the online options?

Terry Hosler

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Terry,

Man- just read your idea. That is a FASCINATING solution - as we've thought about how we could bring programs like PelotonU to rural communities, we've grown keenly aware of the broadband/wifi limitations. Sounds like you've developed an innovative way to surmount that.

We primarily work with College for America out of Southern New Hampshire University - they're the best quality and lowest price we've seen - but we do have a few students at WGU, too.

How are you thinking you might pick online partners? Any advice we can share in what we've learned?

Sarah

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Kate!

Thanks - I'm checking them out right now.

Our students do - and account for about 15-20% of our new students every time we bring on a new cohort. We find that they're really great at helping their friends and colleagues understand how it's possible to make college fit, even when you're working full time, if you have the right program.

Photo of Nina Weaver
Team

Hi Sarah, love this post and the focus on competency-based higher education. This is also something I'm passionate about - the program I am working with right now focuses on providing competency-based AA & BA degrees for refugees internationally, and we now want to work to adapt this idea for resettled refugees in the US (https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/future-of-highered/refinement/developing-a-higher-education-model-for-resettled-refugees-competency-based-degrees-for-successful-transition-and-employment). I think there is probably a lot of overlap with the issues that the nontraditional students you are working with also face. I would love to learn more about the pilot and the early stage results. Hope to continue this discussion!

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Nina Weaver - you work at Kepler! Gosh, we're huge fans, y'all have a tough problem for an important population, and back in 2014 some of your team taught us the ropes of working with College for America. I didn't realize y'all were supporting students in the States, that's fantastic.

Would love to help however we can. Email me at sarah@pelotonu.org and let's setup a call to swap stories!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Welcome to the Refinement phase Sarah! 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: http://ideo.pn/2du9sf7

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
Team

Hi Sarah,

I hope you are having a nice weekend.

There is a finalist idea in a previous challenge where young people support older adults through mentorship that might be of interest (if you have not already seen it) - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/youth-mentor/impact/project-sidekick-is-all-grown-up-introducing-vett

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks OpenIDEO - we'll get to work! Appreciate the toolkit, that's a super helpful place to start.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

This is great Kate Rushton - I hadn't seen it. Really love the idea of leveraging a community to build meaningful relationships that are mutually beneficial. We've made a start of that by equipping (and sometimes paying) students who have been in our program longer to support folks as they're just starting back in college.

In contrast to VETT, we're also curious to see if active retirees would want to have regular volunteer relationships with our students.

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks, Kate! I'll check it out - so grateful for the connections you're making :)

Photo of Sam Woodard
Team

Hi Sarah,

This is a powerful idea and it's inspiring that you are already making headway on it. I'm an educator who is passionate about helping the same group of students and my group brainstormed an idea that also reached the refining stage. Our idea is also to help students who didn't follow the traditional college track by enabling them to get Micro Credentials for the skills and knowledge they gain during their career. We are still refining our idea and it seems like our ideas could be complimentary.

I'd love to talk with you to learn more about what you are working on and see if we could help each other. Let me know if you are interested in talking.

Here's more info on our idea: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/future-of-highered/ideas/micro-credentials-for-non-college-bound-students

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Sam! I just went through your idea - I'm so intrigued and would love to talk more about what you're doing! We've toyed a lot with micro-credentials / MOOCs / etc and could never quite figure it out - sounds like y'all are on to something. Want to email me outside this platform? I'm sarah@pelotonu.org.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Great idea Sarah! What have you learned since you have experimented with the idea since 2014? What do you mean by experimenting? Were you actively working with non traditional students in this way?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Hi Bettina! Thanks so much - and oh gosh, we've learned SO much. We started in 2014 working with more traditional aged students who had struggled in college - it's really only been in the last 1.5-2 years that we've expanded to serve traditional students, too. We've found that having a coach / cheerleader / accountability buddy / etc is THE things students value most - but also that they love competency-based learning and the opportunity to get feedback and connection their education to their real lives. We've also found that folks who change jobs in the middle of their degree tend to struggle to stay on track and continue to prioritize school - but we've learned how to help students plan for that now. Going back to the coaching thing, we've also really learned that one of the biggest things we can do is coach our students through solving their own problems, asking good questions, and letting our students direct their experience - but we're there to help it stay on track.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Sarah. Thanks for sharing your learnings! I remember reading about Pelotonu in a the previous higher ed challenge on OpenIDEO. I really admire your work!
What universities are participating with your program now?
Do students taking the same course gather to study together?

What feedback on you getting from your students about the effect that this experience is having on their lives?

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Great question Bettina Fliegel - apologies for missing your comment.

The majority of our students attend College for America, and remainder study at Western Governor's University. Some students study together, most ask a question or two of peers who have been in the course previously. It generally correlates to their personality, the extroverts find excuses to collaborate and it's tough to convince our quiet students to work together. One benefit of College for America is that they have a bunch of group projects, which requires students to collaborate on their final project.

Feedback from students is consistent (but might be biased by the sample since they self-select into our program). Almost all of them have tried college before, given up on a degree, and know that online education on it's own probably wouldn't work for them. They appreciate both the student community and consistent coaching, but, what surprised us in our last round of student interviews, is that the biggest motivation for finishing college isn't increased wages, but instead the self-esteem that comes with earning their degree.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Sarah and team,

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,

Kate

Photo of Sarah Saxton-Frump
Team

Thanks Kate Rushton - will do!