Bob Hill and the College for America Experiment

Guest blog by Ross T. 

As the Director of Alumni Support at Match, Bob Hill has a tough gig. While 56% of Match graduates earn 4-year degrees—4 times the national average for low-income students—almost half do not persist. Bob told me about going to College for America to try to re-enroll some of the 44% who left higher ed, and came away asking himself a startling question: Should some of the kids with college degrees have done CFA instead?

College for America is an online A.A. degree program run by Southern New Hampshire University. For $2,500, students buy one year of time to master 120 competencies, tested in the form of various tasks. Students set their own deadlines and meet virtually with their personal learning coach once a week.

With the help of Match COO Mike Larsson, Bob initiated a partnership with SNHU (they call it “snoo”) to pilot CFA with Match graduates who had left school. The appeal was obvious: the flexibility of the program allows students to live at home, saving money, and complete tasks on their own schedule so that they can also hold a job. And, says Bob, it’s legitimately relevant and useful work. “When talking to the folks from CFA, they say that their biggest focus is maintaining the program’s integrity by having consistent and high standards for work submitted.”

Rebecca Pierre (Match class of ’11) is part of CFA’s pilot cohort at Match. She told me that CFA was not a hard sell, as she knew that she needed to continue in her schooling, but that the traditional route didn’t working for her. (She stayed at Northeastern University for about six months after graduating Match.) “I felt like an elephant being shown a tree and told, ‘Exam starts now. Climb.’”

I asked Rebecca to show me the CFA portal, which is downright cool. At the top of the page is a progress bar indicating that she has mastered 10% of the competencies towards her A.A. in General Studies, along with 89 “kudos” she’d received from graders and her learning coach. “We talk every week,” Rebecca says. “She helps me set goals and stay focused.”

Bob also provides on-the-ground support for the 14 Match graduates in the pilot program. While getting started at CFA is much easier than at a brick-and-mortar college, he believes on-going tutoring is essential.  “And with the low tuition,” he says,  “there is room to pay for tutoring, even under the Pell grant, which maxes out at $5,500.”

Having close on-campus contact with dozens of Match graduates, Bob wonders if CFA may have been a better route even for  some of the students who earned a B.A. “The term ‘financial aid’ is very misleading,” he explains, pointing out that most aid comes in the form of federal loans. Bob is also wary of slipping standards of rigor at some of the colleges where Match grads have enrolled. “Yes, the degree means something,” Bob says, “but at what cost?”