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Is College for America the Future of Workforce Development?

college for americaToday's guest post is from K.L. Allen, Manager of Partnerships & Business Development at the College for America @ Southern New Hampshire University.  I heard their President, Paul J. Leblanc, speak at a conference earlier this year where he described their mission as "the  reinvention of college around the needs of working adult learners and their employers".  Read on to learn more about their model.  What do you think?  Is competency-based education the future of higher learning?

When a new manufacturing plant opened recently in Memphis, Tennessee, company HR managers received over 22,000 applications for the 500 new line positions available.  But only 150 of those 22,000 applicants were qualified. Why?  Because across the country, HR leaders are finding that too many new hires lack concrete competencies in writing, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, and personal presentation to succeed.

That growing skills gap spurred the launch of College for America, an innovative new degree program - and breakthrough employee benefit -built specifically for employers of working adults for whom barriers like cost and time made college previously impossible.  Today, the not-for-profit College for America works with employers like McDonalds, ConAgra, Goodwill, and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield to help develop their workforces across the country.

By turning to business leaders and academic experts to rebuild what higher education means from the ground up, College for America created a rigorous and high-quality associate degree that is completely self-paced, project-based, and costs only $2,500 a year - often completely covered by an employer's existing tuition reimbursement programs.

This past spring, CfA became the first “competency-based” degree program in the country approved by the US Department of Education.

Instead of traditional classes, CfA students learn by completing real-world projects that depend on clear competencies (for example:  “can use charts & graphs to convey information”).  The associate degree requires mastery of 120 specific competencies, regardless of time.  The result is a learning environment where an employee who has been working with spreadsheets for years in her job can breeze through math competencies far quicker than the traditional 16-week course required at a local college - but she may spend six months or a year working with a CfA coach on learning to write clearly.

For Zach Sherman, the school's first graduate, his College for America associate degree was a ticket from working in sanitation on the graveyard shift to getting a line operator job with better pay and hours.  The ConAgra plant he works at in Troy, Ohio now has one more employee whose skills they can rely on, at a fraction of the cost of almost every other college degree in the country.

With 40 million Americans lacking a degree today and 63% of all new jobs requiring one in the next five years, College for America is posed to fill a missing link for both employers and the working adults that power their businesses.

College for America was developed by Southern NH University, one of the country's most innovative schools and one of the largest nonprofit providers of higher education online.  For more information, visit


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