At 16 she dropped-out of high school. By 20 she was married and began raising a family. For most of her life her earnings were below the poverty level. My mother was 55 years old when she enrolled in her first college course. She was a very intelligent person with college level math, reading, and writing skills. She could solve math problems in her head faster than I could do them on a calculator. However, like many Americans, the public school system did not meet her needs. She dropped-out of high school during her sophomore year – it was 1942 and she spent most of the next 35 years working as a waitress until at age 51, in 1975, she began work as a data-entry operator for a large insurance company. A position which included health insurance benefits, retirement benefits, paid time off, and tuition reimbursement. It has taken me almost 50 years to understand why she waited so long before taking on a career that would help pull her out of poverty. What I’ve learned most recently is that her experience is not unique.
Statistics presented by Bill Gates during one of his recent TED talks paint a bleak picture of the American public education system, especially for older-age, under-served populations – typically referred to as OU students. If you’re not familiar with TED.com I suggest you check-it-out. TED events, both live and online, are where amazing people share how they’re helping to make the world a better place. According to Gates (2009), more than 30% of American children never finish high school – for minorities the number is over 50%. In addition, if you do graduate high school but you are “low-income” you have less than a 25% chance of earning a college degree (Gates, 2009). Worst of all, according to Gates (2009) if you are in the “low-income” bracket “…you have a greater chance of going to jail than earning a college degree.” The obvious overriding question becomes – How do we turn this around?
Like Bill and Melinda Gates, many individuals, public and private organizations, educators, and others are working to improve education for everyone. For OU students, online education is proving to be an effective method for succeeding in college – even if they have not completed high school. In fact, one common misbelief among many high school dropouts is that they need a high school diploma in order to go to college. Taking college level courses does not require a high school diploma. In fact, taking college courses that lead to a better paying job does not require a college degree; however, the statistics demonstrate that individuals with a college degree continue to earn more than those without. For OU students the answer to higher education success is tied to competency-based education (Sturgis, Rath, Weisstein, & Patrick, 2010).
In a recent report, Clearing the Path: Creating Innovation Space for Serving Over-Age, Under-Credited Students in Competency-Based Pathways, posted on the website for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the authors presented why competency-based instruction meets the needs of OU students (Sturgis, Rath, Weisstein, & Patrick, 2010). According to the report by the authors, these types of courses ensure mastery of skills, motivate students, provide educational continuity, and increase the likelihood of graduation (Sturgis, Rath, Weisstein, & Patrick, 2010). The online courses, especially the Acellus online courses, being developed by the Corporate & Continuing Education unit at Clark College, have been designed using a competency-based approach.
Our existing Acellus courses and the new Acellus courses we’re developing for our students are especially exceptional because they teach to the gaps in the student’s knowledge. Each Acellus course tailors itself to meet the individual needs of the student, creating a customized course for every individual. For OU students, these courses, totally online, are available 24/7 and create an open-entry, self-paced learning experience. Our current offering of Acellus courses includes instruction in all the traditional K-12 courses including mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies. We’re also expanding our courses to include Acellus courses for healthcare professionals, high-tech professionals, and even individuals interested in obtaining a 2-year college transfer degree. We employee award-winning instructors to design and present the course in a totally online format – a format that can be easily accessed on a computer or tablet device like the iPad. These courses are designed to ensure success for every student who is dedicated to improving his or her education.
For over-aged, under-served students, like my own mother who returned to school after being a high school dropout for more than 30 years – courses offered through our Acellus learning environment may be the perfect pathway to success.
Gates, B. (2009, February). Bill Gates on mosquitos, malaria and education [Video file]. Retrieved from TED.com website: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/bill_gates_unplugged.html
Sturgis, C., Rath, B., Weisstein, E., & Patrick, S. (2010). Clearing the path: Creating innovation space for serving over-age, under-credited students in competency-based pathways. iNACOL.