An Innovative Guide Through the Higher Ed Landscape | Eastern North Carolina Now | Increasingly, the old model of earning a college degree by simply choosing a school, paying cash to cover room, board, and tuition, and graduating within four years (with summers off) is passé

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    Publisher's note: The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal is a nonprofit institute dedicated to improving higher education in North Carolina and the nation. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, it has been an independent 501(c)(3) organization since 2003. It was known as the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy until early January 2017.

    The author of this post is Shannon Watkins.


    Increasingly, the old model of earning a college degree by simply choosing a school, paying cash to cover room, board, and tuition, and graduating within four years (with summers off) is passé. Currently, the average student takes six years to finish college and has about $37,000 in student loan debt.

    Higher education's escalating costs and increasing complexities are driving students to seek alternatives to save time and money. At the same time, higher education providers-public, private non-profit, and for-profit-are in a state of constant change. While innovations, such as competency-based schools or technical certification programs, are often helpful, they can also make the path to a degree more confusing to navigate.

    One promising innovation was created in response to that confusion. Founded in 2004, Lumerit Education helps students cut their way through the maze of options by providing counseling, services, and information. In total, Lumerit has served over 22,000 students from all 50 states and from 23 countries.

    Lumerit enables students to earn up to three years' worth of college credits, but without limiting them to the course offerings of a single institution. This is possible because Lumerit is familiar with the course offerings and transfer policies of over 750 colleges and universities across the country.

    Co-founder Woody Robertson told the Martin Center that small and mid-size colleges and universities offer course content through Lumerit's online platform called the "Global Digital Classroom." Lumerit also owns and provides about 140 accredited self-paced (4 to 12 weeks) courses. As a result, students who sign up with Lumerit (Lumerit Scholars) have about 40,000 available courses to choose from. Students may also earn credits by taking competency-based tests through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

    Lumerit's streamlined approach may help students avoid the hassle that transfer students often must tackle on their own. For example, students frequently have to delay transferring because a class they need is waitlisted or is not offered in a timely manner. Lumerit is designed to help students bypass such inefficiencies.

    Once Lumerit Scholars earn enough credits to transfer (or have earned the maximum credits their desired program will accept), they apply as a transfer student to the four-year college of their choice. In North Carolina, Lumerit Scholars may apply to schools such as Gardner-Webb University, Duke University, NC State University, and universities within the University of North Carolina system, among others.

    Another important component of Lumerit's services is the extensive counseling and mentoring they provide. Before officially signing up as a Lumerit Scholar, students are assigned an admissions advisor who helps them develop a personalized four-year course progression plan. Students tell the advisor what they are interested in studying and to which schools they would like to transfer. When creating a four-year plan, the advisor finds the most cost-effective and high quality courses that fit each student's transfer timeline.

    In addition, each student is assigned his or her own personal success coach. Students meet their coaches online frequently to discuss the student's academic progress and answer any logistical questions the student may have.

    Lumerit's expertise does not come cheaply. For a cost of $4,200 or $6,000 a year (depending on how many classes a student wants to take), Lumerit provides key information about each institution's courses, such as how much they cost and what requirements they fulfill.

    And, according to co-founder Robertson, Lumerit makes accessible "bundled discounted credits," which typically save the student 30-50 percent of the cost. Lumerit also guarantees the credits transfer to the student's "destination college."

    Some may wonder whether it is worth paying for logistical help for tasks that one can in principle do on one's own. But parents and students alike often are at a loss as to how to navigate through universities' transferring terms and policies. And transferring credits from more than one college only further complicates an already convoluted process. Lumerit can save customers many hours of research and communications and gather information in a more comprehensive fashion than can individual students or families.

    In fact, according to a study by Complete College America called The Four-Year Myth, a common reason why students take so long to graduate is a lack of academic counseling and proactive planning. Hence, the services that Lumerit offers could prove to be invaluable and may even be the determining factor of whether a student graduates on time.

    Aside from the convenience of not having to maneuver through administrative obstacles, Lumerit advertises that it helps make college more affordable. Although Lumerit does not claim to eliminate debt, it does advertise that some of its students graduate debt free. This is because Lumerit often connects students with courses that are less expensive than those at an average university.

    Lumerit customers include both traditional college-aged students and non-traditional, according to co-founder Woody Robertson. These include corporate employees seeking to benefit from the flexibility Lumerit offers.

    Colleges and universities might also benefit from forming a relationship with Lumerit. Much of academia has suffered a steady decline in enrollment numbers in recent years. According to the American Association of University Professors, only "34 percent of colleges met new student enrollment targets this year by May 1," down from 42 percent in 2015. If it attracts more clients, Lumerit could provide a new alternate pipeline of students to friendly colleges and universities.

    But Lumerit is only one example of the many innovations that are trying to shift the higher education landscape. For instance, in addition to programs like Lumerit, there also has been a proliferation of "competency-based" programs that allow students to earn credit through CLEP examinations or from professional experience in place of traditional coursework. Students who take this route finish college at an accelerated speed, sometimes in significantly less time than a traditional degree would take.

    Western Governors University, which is now chartered in seven states and Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey are examples of how the competency-based model is growing in popularity. Alumni of these schools include prominent public figures, such as the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks.

    Students today overwhelmingly view higher education as a means to employment, a series of hurdles to be gotten over as quickly and inexpensively as possible rather than as a means of personal, intellectual, and professional formation and fulfillment. Services like Lumerit could change the future of higher education by responding to their needs and helping them overcome those hurdles efficiently.
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