Altius Education’s Ivy Bridge Disrupts Community College Through Technology

3/2/11Follow @wroush

(Page 2 of 4)

freshmen and sophomores and the tuition they paid, four-year schools needed to bring in more juniors from community colleges. Nationally, however, very few community college students were successfully making the transfer.

“It struck me as a big problem,” says Freedman. “All of these green lights were going off about an opportunity to do something. I looked into it, and I thought that almost all of the fundamental issues about why students weren’t successful in their goal to go to a four-year institution were solvable.”

There are at least four big problems with the nation’s community college system, in Freedman’s view. First, communities are asking too much of them. “Junior colleges” were invented in the early twentieth century as vocational schools, intended to prepare young people for industrial trades. But by the 1970s they had also come to be seen as feeders for four-year colleges, training students in general-education subjects like history, calculus, and psychology. “That’s like having a fine-dining restaurant, a health food store, and a fast-food restaurant all in the same building,” Freedman says. The fact that community colleges are serving “very different constituencies” means that the students headed for four-year schools—the ones who need the most focused academic environment, in other words—get shortchanged.

Second, it just isn’t practical to expect 18- to 20-year-olds who don’t live on campus to show up in class at 8:00 a.m. every day, or even 8:00 p.m., Freedman says. “They are balancing a lot of work-life stuff,” he says. “We’re not talking about the suburban 18-year-old who can take four years and go off to frat parties and live in a dorm. There’s a heavy sorting cost to having to be on campus at a particular time.”

Third, many students at two-year institutions are the first people in their families ever to pursue higher education. Social scientists, Freedman says, have found that the biggest predictor of success in college “is having a relationship with somebody who has been to college, like a friend or a family member. It’s about mentorship and having a shoulder to cry on.” When students don’t have those relationships, their success rates plummet.

Finally, there’s a mismatch between the academic credit systems used by two-year and four-year institutions. “In a lot of states, students might get accepted [by four-year schools], but their credits aren’t accepted,” he says. To earn back the lost credits, the students who do transfer have to spend, on average, an entire added semester in class—and for students who are financial or academic edge cases to begin with, that extra semester can become a big deterrent to finishing at all. (Freedman hastens to add that this isn’t as much of a problem in California, where state laws provide for a “very elegant system of articulation” between two-year and four-year schools.)

None of the approaches that Altius is using to combat these problems is, by itself, all that original or revolutionary. But together, they seem to be working.

You can solve the first two problems, Freedman says, simply by teaching courses online. That gets students out of the cafeteria-style community college setting and into a curriculum specifically focused on helping them master the general-education material they’ll need to cope well at a four-year institution. It also lets them complete course work at times and places that fit into their complex lives. There is structure in Ivy Bridge’s academic calendar—terms last seven weeks, and every course is built around weekly reading, group discussions, and homework assignments—but if students want, says Freedman, they can do all their work the night before the due date each week.

To address the mentorship issue, Altius has developed a new program Freedman calls “success coaching.” This may be the company’s single biggest innovation. “Every student in our program gets an individual relationship with an academic advisor, career counselor, and … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

Single Page Currently on Page: 1 2 3 4 previous page

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

  • Milan Moravec

    Regretably University of California Chancellor Birgeneau is an ‘altius’ leader. He believes he is above it all and does what he wishes, consequences be dammed. Just how widespread is the budget crisis at University of California Berkeley? University of California Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau’s ($500,000 salary) eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.
    A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.
    It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.
    In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. Merely cutting out inefficiencies will not have the effect desired. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC President, Chairman of the UC Board of Regents Gould, California Legislators to jolt Cal back to life, applying some simple oversight check-and-balance management practices. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donors, benefactors await Cal senior management’s transformation.

    UC Berkeley public reprimand, censure: NCAA places Chancellor Birgeneau’s men’s basketball program on probation
    The author,who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way senior management work.
    (UC Berkeley ranking tumbles from 2nd best. The reality of UC Berkeley relative decline is clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place. By 2011 the ranking had not returned to 2nd best)

  • Pingback: At Altius’s Online College, Students Will Learn Through Stories | Xconomy