This week, we bring you an inside look at Degrees Work – Louisville.
The team shared their struggles about moving Comebackers to completion despite the other responsibilities Comebackers often juggle, how to address institutional debt that can impede students’ progress, and the employer partnerships that are a core component of their work. The responses below reflect the collective voices of the Degrees Work team.
What is the biggest challenge you are currently facing?
The challenge we face as a community is to continue to find and advocate for the best ways for Comebackers to shorten time to degree completion. Many of them have used up their federal financial aid, already owe tuition to a college, or have other outstanding loans. We also know that the majority of our adult learners are working 40+ hours a week and are managing intense home/life schedules. We want to continue to encourage our college partners to make credit for prior learning a manageable and understandable option for adult learners. We also strive to make going to college as low-risk as possible and to encourage our Comebackers to have a growth mindset. Thus, we need to provide information about the kinds of pathways that will accommodate the busy schedule of Comebackers and help them to earn a degree in a time-efficient, cost-effective way. As one of our Comebackers said, “understanding that I had 13 courses left to complete helped me to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
What’s your next goal? How do you plan to tackle it?
Our next goal is to roll out a voucher program that will help our Comebackers pay back money owed to an institution. [We] are sure other communities are familiar with the fact that when students owe money to an institution they are unable to retrieve transcripts for transfer purposes or re-enroll at that same institution. For example, we recently heard the story of one student who registered for courses at a college but never attended only to discover that she owes money to that institution and was out of the federal financial aid that she was awarded for the semester. In the future, some colleges may even request transcripts from that college even though she never attended! We hope that our voucher program will provide us leverage when leading discussions with our higher ed partners about the kinds of policies that might help those students who are in this position. Finally, we are also working on shaping our Salesforce instance in a way that allows College Coaches to deliver strategic, personalized messages at specific moments in the Comebacker lifecycle to learn more about the behaviors of our Comebackers. We will do this through automation that varies from low- to high-touch nudges and email alerts.
What is most successful about your approach with your partners – higher ed institutions, local businesses, government agencies, or funders?
We are a community that works almost exclusively with employer-customers and our approach is to always focus on the unique and individual needs of those employer-customers and the talent that they are investing in by developing and providing an educational service such as Degrees Work. Through our employer partnerships, we have been able to lead discussions with our higher ed partners that continue to bridge the gap between the workforce needs and the postsecondary opportunities that can help meet those needs. For instance, one of our employer-customers will be working with a college to have their internal training curriculum reviewed for credit. Another employer partner is interested in learning more about the ways they can share internal career pathways with their employees and how certain degrees can help those employees move along those career pathways both up the ladder and across the ladder. [We] think we have been fortunate in that our college and employer partners are always open to inviting us into the many discussions they have about education for adult learners and they are also always willing to answer our calls for open discussion as well.