Altius Education’s Ivy Bridge Disrupts Community College Through Technology

3/2/11Follow @wroush

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career coach all rolled into one,” says Freedman. “It’s somebody to help with study skills, work-life balance, somebody to be that friend.” Each Ivy Bridge student’s success coach stays in regular contact via phone, e-mail, instant message, or Facebook throughout their time in the program. The coaches help students meet weekly goals, and they’re also the backstop when students start to feel overwhelmed.

Infused into the coaching program—and into the whole Ivy Bridge curriculum, in fact—is a philosophy of learning called the “growth mindset.” First developed in a 2006 book by Stanford social psychologist Carol Dweck, this boils down to the idea that everyone’s brain is fundamentally plastic, and that students will have more success building their academic skills if they believe that their brains can grow into it. Explains Freedman, “There really is no such thing as being ‘good at math’ or ‘bad at math.’ It’s just how much effort you put into it. What’s interesting is that if you can get people to believe that’s true, it changes their behavior around school. They no longer look at a bad grade as a signal that they are stupid, but as feedback on their progress.”

Altius takes the growth mindset so seriously that all Ivy Bridge students are required to begin their studies with an orientation course that teaches it. “The first step is to convince them that it’s possible,” says Freedman. “Second, we have to make sure faculty are reinforcing it and engaging with students in a way the reflects the philosophy that it’s all about brain development, not about skill level at any moment in time.”

The final piece of the Ivy Bridge formula is purely an administrative one, but it makes a big difference in the way students plan their studies. It’s the “articulation agreements” that Altius and Tiffin have negotiated with 78 four-year colleges and universities around the country, including names like Bowling Green State University, Valparaiso University, George Mason University, and several SUNY campuses. The agreements differ by school, but basically, if an Ivy Bridge student meets a particular school’s GPA requirement—typically a B average—then they’re in, and all their credits count against the new school’s graduation requirements.

There are no quotas at the partner institutions, so Ivy Bridge students aren’t competing against one another for access to the top schools. But the best schools on the list do have higher GPA requirements, which serves as a useful motivator, according to Freedman. “Part of why we are having better success is that our coaches can remind students, ‘Hey, you got a C minus, and with a little work Valparaiso or a lot of other good schools are open to you.’ That’s definitely a lure.”

Ivy Bridge’s professors and coaches include Tiffin faculty, Altius employees, and outside contractors. A huge amount of the focus at Altius is on instructional design, which generally means taking courses developed by Tiffin faculty and translating them into a form that can be distributed online. (Altius partnered with Tiffin on Ivy Bridge precisely because it needed a source of general-education content, Freedman says; 115 of the company’s 137 employees are based in Toledo, an hour north of the university.) Ivy Bridge students currently participate in courses via a commercial learning management system from Pearson, but Freedman says Altius is in the process of changing over to an open-source platform called Moodle.

How much does Ivy Bridge cost? Students pay $315 per credit-hour, which translates into about $9,000 a year or $18,000 for the entire program. That’s more than most community colleges charge, Freedman acknowledges, but he says roughly 85 percent of Ivy Bridge students receive some sort of tuition subsidy such as Pell grants or student loans.

One puzzle about Ivy Bridge is that Altius is implementing so many strategies at once that it’s hard to know which ones are most important for the program’s success, or … Next Page »

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

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  • 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)

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