Altius Education’s Ivy Bridge Disrupts Community College Through Technology
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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 »