PelotonU is a social enterprise that provides working college students with a pathway to graduation that is affordable, flexible, and personalized to their long-term career goals. It tackles the problem of college completion for working adults by providing in-person mentorship and support for competency-based degree programs.
This is valuable for students because it provides a pathway that is affordable, flexible, and personalized to their long-term career goals. This is valuable for employers because it provides a low-cost retention and credentialing framework.
Here's the context. The American higher education system was designed for students who live near campus and graduate in four years, but now most college students are non-traditional.
This means most college students are older, work more than 20 hours, and struggle to attend full-time and keep their job. They face real challenges completing their education, and when they do, graduates average $29,000 in debt.
PelotonU was founded in 2012 to research and address this problem. We selected competency-based education (CBE) models because they are flexible, affordable, and workforce aligned. When blended with in-person accountability and support, CBE provides a better path to college graduation and ensures students have the support and community to graduate.
In our first year, we used a residential model where a college coach lived alongside students. After this proved ineffective, we moved to an office-based support model (quick history). Since then, all of our students have avoided college debt and they are persisting at five times the rate of their peers (82% compared to 16% in Central Texas, source: E3 Alliance).
Here's how that looks: [Updated 1/17/16]
- Students hear about PelotonU, usually from their employer
- We screen students on four key criteria (see Admissions attachment)
- Students begin provisional enrollment, a two month process to pick their long-term goal, map their academic path, enroll them in a university they select, and get them in the rhythms of prioritizing school
- Students enroll in college and are admitted to PelotonU. They spend 12 hours per week at our office, have weekly academic pace requirements, meet with their college coach every two weeks, and have on-demand tutoring and peer support as needed
- Students either (a) earn their Bachelor's with PelotonU, (b) transfer to a brick-and-mortar for a specific degree, or (c) finish the education needed for a career in their long-term industry.
Over the past year, PelotonU:
- Grew 400% from 7 to 28 students
- Graduated from the inaugural cohort of UnLtd USA, an Austin-based accelerator for social entrepreneurs
- Hired a design researcher to study working adults and their motivations for college completion (findings attached, notes here)
- Worked with a user experience design class from General Assembly to re-design student recruitment
- Finalized a revenue model that will cover 80% of our expenses by 2018
This model addresses the unique needs of low-income families and first generation college students by providing a pay-what-you-can cost structure, personalized academic pathway, ongoing relational support from trained educators, and a flexible academic schedule. [Updated 1/17/16]
In 2016, PelotonU will enroll 90 students and prove the viability of a blended higher education model for working adults. Long-term, we intend to help non-profits and employers in other cities replicate this model for their community.