The program allows students to make their own schedule and get help from JEVS coaches.
When Karen Clark gets home from work, she has two kids to take care of, dinner to get on the table and errands to run.
Clark has a bachelor’s in film and animation, but her career path changed after graduation. Now, she works in the nonprofit sector and wants to move into management. Going back to school was the thing to do to get ahead, but her busy lifestyle didn’t allow her to spend hours and dollars on in-person classes.
That’s when she learned she could get a degree at her own pace from Southern New Hampshire University and JEVS Human Services.
“Traditional school doesn’t work for everyone,” Clark said. “But I believe in this program.”
SNHU and JEVS partnered to bring a new model of higher education to the Philadelphia region this year to allow people of all ages to earn an affordable degree. The online program guides students through employer-developed projects that show their mastery of skills—on their own timeline.
“It’s like college deconstructed,” said Grace Cannon, JEVS’ director of post-secondary education. “There are no courses or seat time. You may have six projects that when they’re pulled together are equivalent to a course.”
Students in the program can earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from SNHU in several academic areas, including healthcare management, communications and public administration. Each program costs about $6,000 a year, and financial aid and scholarships are available.
Clark is in the business administration program. Unlike her time in traditional college general education classes, she feels a connection to all of her work because it is focused on her program.
“I have ownership over my education,” she added. “It puts you in a situation where I have to think. No one is lecturing in my ear for hours telling me what they think. I’m learning at my own pace and developing skills like I would in the real world.”
Real-world application is a goal of the partnership, Cannon said. Instead of grading on an A to F scale, students move forward by mastering skills after workshopping and completing projects with the help of a degree advisor.
“It’s much more like the world of work,” Cannon said. “In my job, I don’t get a C minus. I get feedback and I have to revise. That’s really a way to prepare you for the work world.”
In addition to building your own schedule, the JEVS+SNHU partnership is unique because it matches each student with a dedicated coach who guides them to success in all aspects of the program; from applying for financial aid to finding time that works to dedicate to studying.
Jabari Adams, a JEVS coach, spends his day meeting with students, keeping them on track and communicating with SNHU to figure out best practices for student success. When Adams attended a traditional school, he often felt lost on how to keep persisting toward a degree.
“There’s a joy in helping students circumvent some of the challenges that you had,” he said. “Having a program that mimics what they do in real life really allows people to have a more positive attitude toward education and create opportunities for themselves and their families.”
After realizing the impact being a student has had in her life, Clark became a coach herself. “Many of our students didn’t believe they could do it,” she said. “Watching them have that a-ha moment is awesome.”
JEVS also supports students with Philadelphia-area study groups and student orientations. “You don’t lose that human connection,” Cannon said. Cannon sees the partnership as a step to alleviate the obstacles of moving forward in your career.
“College is too expensive. There’s too many people living in debt and yet too many people need degrees,” she said. “That’s linked to getting jobs and advanced education so you can get better, life-sustaining jobs with benefits.”
“In order to change your circumstances you need to have understanding and opportunity,” Adams added. “JEVS+SNHU creates that opportunity.”