Brookhaven College pilots alternative credential pathways
- Brookhaven College is partnering with StraighterLine to pilot a new associate's degree model that Brookhaven President Thom Chesney hopes will take "down barriers to access education."
- The pilot is one of eight such programs supported by the U.S. Department of Education, allowing institutions and non-traditional providers to collaborate to provide education to low-income students with access to federal financial aid programs. Under the agreement, students would take their first 30 credit hours of general education courses online through StraighterLine and the last 30 at Brookhaven in Farmers Branch, Texas, with the college administrating and dispersing the federal funds and issue degrees. The program will focus heavily on business and criminal justice — high-need professions in central Texas and the nation overall, which Chesney said will be in high-demand from students.
- "It's about time we get to try something like this," said Chesney in an interview, referencing the ability to apply federal financial aid to experimental programs that will make it easier for students to attain higher education credentials.
Finding "pathways that were not too narrowly applied that they'd become applied degrees" was a challenge, as was ensuring smooth transitions from "start to degree to workforce," Chesney said. He added in a shared model, colleges don't want students to have a great experience on one side and not the other. "That's where you have attrition."
The model of having an accredited college with degree-granting authority partner with an alternative credentialing provider with a stronger back-office infrastructure is one that is becoming increasingly popular, and one some in the industry believe will be the future of higher education as a whole. The U.S. House of Representatives, in is version of proposed legislation to re-authorize the Higher Education Act, is also seeking ways for Title IV funds to be available to more education providers. But that could prove challenging for traditional institutions that tarry behind in bolstering customer service and marketing infrastructures.
For students seeking easy, affordable pathways to careers, programs like the Brookhaven-StraighterLine partnership may seem a more attractive option than traditional degree programs that don't outline clear job market avenues from the start. A number of institutions are realizing this, and are working to offer students clear information before they enroll about not only which jobs graduates can get with certain degrees, but also which majors and careers they may enjoy based on their personalities and interests.
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