Colorado has ambitious higher education goals; we need bold solutions to match
New innovative college support model benefits the “Students of Today”
Denver is home to many college students who a decade ago would have been considered “nontraditional.” Students like Ronie, a recent high school grad who didn’t believe college was a realistic option, but is now pursuing a healthcare management degree and a paid co-op with DaVita. Or Kodi, a working mom seeking a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management who just stepped into a leadership role in her field. These are the students of today, from backgrounds of all kinds, bringing with them a broad brush of strengths and needs. Too often, students like Ronie and Kodi don’t think college will be a good fit. But new innovative college support models are changing that belief and harnessing their untapped potential.
Colorado has ambitious goals of increasing certificate and degree completion to 66% and closing persistent equity gaps for diverse students by 2025. To help achieve both of those goals, AdvanceEDU offers bold solutions designed around the needs of largely untapped students.
Traditional institutions haven’t yet found effective ways to offer what today’s students often need, including affordability, streamlined support that addresses issues in real time, and flexibility to effectively juggle busy work and family schedules. Students weighing these factors often choose more accessible, local higher ed institutions where graduation rates for socioeconomically diverse students are often at or below 25 percent. Nationally, the dropout rate for students working full-time is two times higher.
A new approach to higher education that combines high-quality online college degrees from accredited and non-profit universities with a variety of in-person support to help students succeed, shows great promise. According to a Harvard study, “College Re-imagined,” models like AdvanceEDU are demonstrating early outcomes and eliminating race-based college completion disparities in the communities in which they operate.
Taking it a step further, AdvanceEDU has a very specific goal of closing equity gaps in degree attainment and early career placement in Colorado while providing students with a customized and debt-free path. The concept is designed to improve college access and degree completion, especially for students who work or have other life commitments. Launched in 2020, this nonprofit builds on the hybrid support model by providing “earn-and-learn” opportunities, where students ‘learn” from online partners, including Southern New Hampshire University and CSU Global, and “earn” paid career-building job opportunities from many top Colorado employers, like Liberty Global, Pinnacol Assurance, Denver Health and DaVita.
At AdvanceEDU, 92 percent are students of color, 88 percent come from a low-income household and 90 percent are first-generation students. Because 83 percent of students work at least part-time, degrees are self-paced and low-cost so students earn a degree around their schedule with little to no debt.
In addition to the flexible, competency-based degree format that most of our collaborating universities offer, we provide support services to help our students overcome common barriers to completing college:
- Co-Learning Community: AdvanceEDU’s Denver co-learning space offers quiet and group study options, reliable Wi-Fi, meals and childcare; and opportunities for interaction and connection with peers on the same journey.
- Success Coaching: Each student is paired with a counselor who offers a trusting relationship and long-term, stable support. Students meet with their coach at least once a week.
- Mental Health Support: With so many college students experiencing mental health challenges, our staff is trained to identify when a student might benefit from professional mental health services. Our students get free support from Mental Health Care Center of Denver if they need it.
- Financial Assistance: It’s very common for students to have financial emergencies come up, such as their car breaking down. We work with students to address these challenges with things like emergency grants.
Our early outcomes are strong: we’ve retained 91% of students to date, 84% of our students are attending debt free, and many of our students are thriving in paid, career-aligned roles.
High schools should look at us as a way to increase college and career outcomes for their graduating students. And employers should look to organizations like ours as a way to expand and retain their diverse workforce.
AdvanceEDU features a wall mural with pictures of our students. One such student, Albert, a recent high school grad seemed overwhelmed when he first saw his face on the mural. When asked, “Is everything ok… do you like it?” He smiled and said: “Yes, I just never saw myself as a student who would be featured on someone’s wall.” As a future cybersecurity professional who is thriving academically and was just offered a tech co-op with Liberty Global, Albert’s future is bright.
Jandel Allen-Davis is the board chair of AdvanceEDU and the president and chief executive officer of Craig Hospital in Denver.
Lauren Trent is the chief executive officer of AdvanceEDU.