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Bettina Fliegel Fantastic questions! So rarely do we get to this level of detail with the model, thanks for thinking with us about the nuances and opportunities. You’ve got some great suggestions. I’ve responded in-line below.

There’s lots of great employers in town providing support for their staff. Since we’re focused on Bachelor’s degree completion, not every company is a fit for our model. There are three incentives. First, tuition-reimbursement is an under-utilized benefit. We’re the only flexible college model in town. Second, as we coach through academic persistence, we address many of the same personal obstacles that interfere with success at work. Third, we focus on top performers within companies. We provide a pipeline for internal development of key staff. Thus far the funding relationships have been secondary. We encourage students to use existing tuition reimbursement options (which drives down our scholarship cost), but haven’t charged companies for support.

We have six students who haven’t finished. Four are still in college, and two plan to come back to PelotonU. One I still meet with twice a month. The biggest reason students drop out is pace. We require them to prioritize regular progress in school. If they start to struggle and decide not to ask for help, then we ask them to leave the program until they’re ready to come back and work hard on their studies.

The other thing to consider is we have a two month provisional enrollment. This is a trial period when we’re helping students plan their academic path, get up to speed in math or writing, and enroll in their starting university. It’s not until the end of this process that we track retention. So for our October 2015 cohort, 14 students started, 10 completed, and 4 did not. Those four are not reflected in our reported outcomes.

When students begin the program, we require them to spend 12 hours per week at our office. This is where we mentor, offer tutoring, and set weekly academic standards. The hope is students are studying at least 20 hours per week, but this baseline in an academic community helps them get back into the routine of school. As students make progress and demonstrate consistency, that requirements gets lifted.

Most of them work more than 30 hours per week in the service industry. Their shifts change each week, but rarely to their preferences. We help them fit school in the margins around the rest of the moving parts of their life. 29% of our students are parents, more are supporting an older family member.

We’ve thought lots about scale. For 2016, we want to focus on the Austin model and make sure we can deliver the same quality with 100 students that we’re finding with our first 30. As for growth, it makes the most sense within existing organizations, which could be an employer or non-profit. At the same time, culture is a big part of our support, and replicating that is tough. We’ve just started chatting to local tech companies, but think some of them (especially with call centers in Austin) are natural partners.

AT&T we haven’t chatted with yet, but are absolutely in our wheelhouse. Seton does great work in town, but we had some relationships with the other area hospital - St. David’s (which is HCA operated) - and are working on a pilot with one location before hopefully expanding across the city this Fall. Long-term, absolutely the play is to help large employers support the growth of this model to support their staff in other cities.

We only work with universities that are regionally-accredited, nonprofit (with an exception for a criminal justice degree), and competency-based. WGU and CFA are the best out there, and there’s more programs like them coming online in the next few years (including from the University of Texas).

WGU has been around awhile and is pretty well-recognized. They’re also treated like a Texas university, which is helpful when our students want to transfer to finish their degree. CFA is more affordable and has a much more student friendly learning management system. We’ve been surprised to find that software matters even more than curriculum for how students learn, and by extension, feel about their education (think Khan Academy compared to a textbook). Here’s a good summary of what we mean:

I know that’s a lot - does it help clear up some of your questions?

@Alexandra Alden We have sized the market, a couple different ways.

1) Students with some college and no degree. These are students who had college-going intent but did not reach their goal. We believe many would re-enroll if the barrier to their prior participation - typically cost and time, was removed.
Nationally: 31 million Americans have some college and no degree

Locally: We know about 4,000 students drop out of college each year in Central Texas. If you consider 25% of students from 18 - 40, that puts the market close to 20,000 students.

2) Part-time community college students:
These are students still pursuing a degree, but who are not able to attend full-time. We believe many would take more classes if they were affordable and flexible.
Nationally: 4.6 million students are currently enrolled part-time

Locally: 41,627 students are enrolled in Austin Community College. 77% are part-time (32,053). 16% of those graduate. 26,925 of those currently enrolled will not.

@OpenIDEO team - Thank you for the encouragement and feedback. We have had challenges building relationships with advisors and outside research teams. The biggest is bandwidth. We have a small staff, and can get lost in the short-term deadlines. Partnerships that don’t solve the problem of the week can feel tangential. Yet every time, they’ve helped us clarify our customer and improve our student support. That’s the win - we get better when we slow down to invite others to see our questions and offer new solutions.What might others learn? Mostly, that this work is too hard and too important to do alone. We’re fortunate in Austin to have a great eco-system of social entrepreneurs, funders, accelerators, and advisors. Once we started to look for friends and ask for help, the quality of support we provided our students improved significantly.

We don’t have current plans to expand our model to traditional students at four year universities. If they’re on campus, we’re optimistic the resources needed to graduate are accessible. It may be costly, but they can find them. We’re interested in the 6.5 million students currently enrolled part-time ( and the 31 million students with some credit and no degree ( These are the students least served by the current post-secondary pathways.