In 2013, the nonprofit scholarship organization Generation Rwanda, which focuses on the needs of orphans and other underserved groups of young adults, turned its attention to building a nontraditional degree program called Kepler.
Part of the current international wave of innovative “flipped” higher educational models, Kepler offers low-cost, internationally accredited business degrees to students who demonstrate academic competency in their subject. Students acquire knowledge through massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered by prestigious universities, then take part in face-to-face, project-based sessions with teachers and fellow students to practice what they’ve learned.
Match Beyond, a Boston-based counterpart to Kepler, also seeks to make higher education accessible to young adults who otherwise would not have the opportunity to earn a college degree and obtain middle-class jobs. Both programs receive accreditation from Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, which recently earned the distinction of being the first competency-based degree program to receive federal education funding.
While some critics in American academia have expressed concerns that such start-up programs don’t give their students the experience of a well-funded, well-established traditional university, many other observers have praised this educational model for its potential to democratize higher education to an unprecedented extent.
For example, Match Beyond serves a population that overwhelmingly consists of people of color who grew up in under-resourced neighborhoods. These potential students often juggle several part-time jobs and have multiple personal responsibilities. Many have tried the traditional route to a college degree, only to find the cost even of state-run universities out of reach or the demands on their time incompatible with raising children and earning a living. For these students, Match Beyond’s approach to measuring achievement in terms of skills mastered, rather than classroom hours logged, has proven to be ideal.
Match Beyond provides real-time life-skills coaching for students, helping them manage time, stay on track with their studies, and deal with stress. In another move that echoes Kepler’s focus, the Boston students receive extensive career mentoring, as well as assistance transitioning into more promising jobs after graduation.