The new no-textbook college program

Brandman University’s MyPath aims to help students earn degrees with textbook expenses

college-textbookFor many adults looking to further their careers, fall is the time when they explore their back-to-school options. They recognize the complex challenges of juggling family, a job that may not be fulfilling or offer upward mobility, and tight finances. Those who want to get back to college and earn a bachelor’s degree now have a new way to attend at their fingertips with a just-released app called MyPath, a platform from nonprofit Brandman University.

More than two years in the making, the online program represents a new path to a bachelor’s degree, allowing students to earn an accredited degree at a lower cost.

Two groups of students have been beta testing the platform since last year, giving feedback while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at their own pace. The beta testing phase lasted nearly a year and students participating say that the platform is engaging and enjoyable to use.

“I absolutely love it. This program is a life-changer for me,” said beta student Amanda Harvey, who works full time for a real estate company in Irvine. “I’ve been working for 11 years now and I realize that I could have been going to school that whole time. I’m at the ceiling of where I can go with my career but now thanks to MyPath I’ll finish my bachelor’s degree in less than two years.”

Fellow beta testing student Colin Grieg echoes that sentiment. “I thought this would be the right time to get back into school, and this program has been phenomenal. Everything I’m learning is new because of the personalized education plan. I love that everything is all in one place, accessible on my tablet,” he said. “I know that when I earn this degree it will open up so many new opportunities for me.”

“This new approach matches the skills most-needed in a 21st century workforce with a formal degree program and represents an important evolution in American higher education,” said Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm. “I am very proud of the dedicated team of faculty, staff and instructional design experts who share in our vision for the future and collaborated to make MyPath a reality.”

Key features of MyPath include:
Technology: Brandman partnered with Flat World Knowledge to create MyPath, which incorporates the latest learning technology (adaptive learning, game-based learning, data analytics and social learning).
Self-paced learning: Students move entirely at their own pace in a competency-based environment rather than attending classes, and they are able to apply previous learning and work experience for faster time to degree.
Accessibility: Content is available anytime and anywhere using an iPad or laptop computer; there are no textbooks to purchase. All materials are embedded into the program, which saves students thousands of dollars
Inclusive cost: Tuition is $5,400 per academic year. Because each student sets their own pace, the faster they move through the program the lower overall cost. With no textbooks to purchase, students save thousands of dollars while pursuing a degree. Federal and state financial aid is available; residents of California are eligible to apply for Cal Grants.
Ongoing assessment: With digital badges validating each skill along the way, students will be able to put evidence of their abilities to work in real-time, immediately elevating their profile with employers (and prospective employers).
Comprehensive academic and student support: Students are fully supported by academic coaches who counsel on program progress and full-time faculty tutor students on the topic of the competencies and assist them with questions along the way.

With MyPath, students can pursue a bachelor’s in business administration (B.B.A.) degree with four choices for concentration: Information Systems Management, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Management and Organizational Leadership, or Marketing.

As students progress, they are awarded digital badges for competencies they have mastered through Brandman’s partner Credly, providing them with a way to show what skills and abilities they possess. The badges will be awarded as certification of skills, and they can be displayed by the students on LinkedIn and other social networks, online resumes professional portfolios, and even shared with their employer. There are about 60 competencies in each program.

Competencies, not classes

The MyPath degree program is completely separated from the traditional credit-hour standard. The structure requires students to concretely demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities, (competencies) without requiring them to sit through a traditional 8- or 12-week course. Instead, based on the students’ prior work or learning experiences, they only need to focus on learning topics that they don’t know and master competencies at a faster pace.

“Students can move through their personalized program as quickly as they like, but they must demonstrate mastery over a concept before moving on. This is an innovative approach to learning for adult students, providing them with a degree that is relevant to the modern business environment,” Brahm said.

“The approach allows students to move more quickly through material they already know or to spend more time on concepts when needed,” Brahm added.

During the academic development of MyPath, faculty and instructional designers incorporated frameworks from the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile and the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). Both organizations seek to better define what students should know and be able to do, with an emphasis on the importance of academically sound general-education requirements.

MyPath was also designed with significant research into what companies and hiring managers expect bachelor’s-prepared employees to know by surveying over 100 employers about the skills and knowledge that they expect a business graduate to have.

Closing the skills gap

“As a nonprofit leader in adult education, Brandman’s mission is to provide value for our graduates through relevant degree programs,” Brahm said. “There is a growing gap in the American workforce between the skills needed by businesses and the capabilities of college graduates in this country. This is what makes the Brandman CBE program a truly disruptive innovation in higher education.”

A recent research study by Gallup outlines the skills gap for American college graduates. In the study, only 11 percent of business leaders “strongly agree” that college graduates have the requisite skills for the workforce whereas 96 percent of chief academic officers believe that their institutions are “very effective” (56 percent) or “somewhat effective” (40 percent) at preparing students for the work world.

“CBE has been shown to be an increasingly effective tool to get qualified, experienced graduates to the marketplace quickly, and for them, cost-effectively,” Brahm added. “Moreover, it allows students to be tested on areas where their experience may well qualify them as knowledgeable. This allows them to focus on what they need to learn not what they already know. We built this program with a lot of input from business leaders with a focus on making the degree relevant to the needs in the modern workforce.”

MyPath is available for free download on iPads through the App Store or an online HTML version is accessible through the Brandman website. Prospective students interested in trying the program can complete the Competency Intro Module, which is a no obligation, no cost and immersive experience that introduces this new approach to attending college and serves as an admissions requirement to the program.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione