Council on Postsecondary Education Approves College Unbound as a New Postsecondary Institution in Rhode Island

For Release: May 21, 2015
Media Contact: Tracy Money, Director of Communications/College Unbound

In a historic vote on May 20, 2015, the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education welcomed College Unbound as a degree-granting postsecondary option in the state.

The board voted unanimously to accept College Unbound’s proposal for establishment as a degree-completion college in Rhode Island, designed to serve the more than 110,000 RI adults who began but did not complete bachelor’s degrees.

The college is the adult learning initiative of Big Picture Learning, a non-profit organization dedicated to a fundamental redesign of education in the United States.

College Unbound is unique. It is college that is “unbound” from conventional structures, designed specifically to meet the needs of adult learners many of whom are full-time workers, parents, and partners who need flexibility, support, and immediately relevant curriculum.

Alumni and current students representing College Unbound filled more than half the room at both the initial Council discussion on May 6 and the vote on May 20, and shared their support for the proposal in letters to the Council.

Students cheered when Council member John Smith acknowledged, “This particular program appears to give students hope, so they are able to not only feel pride in themselves and in their work, but have an opportunity to grow, expand, and to find their pathway.”

Rhode Island Commissioner of Postsecondary Education Dr. Jim Purcell said, “Education is all about bringing forth the capacity that exists within people, and College Unbound offers people the opportunity to expand their minds, finish their degrees, and build better lives.” Dr. Purcell continued, saying, “These types of adult degree completion programs are transformative not just for the individuals and their families, but also for our community and workforce.”

“We will continue to be talent finders and developers for Rhode Island, and look forward to doing that with our own accreditation,” said College Unbound President Dr. Dennis Littky. “There are too many adult learners in Rhode Island who are stuck--unable to advance in their careers without a degree. We help our students build the skills they need and support them through completion so they can be leaders in Rhode Island.”

College Unbound has been offering college curriculum through affiliations with accredited institutions since 2009, currently partnering with Charter Oak State College in Connecticut. This partnership will continue as the college pursues accreditation through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

The program was supported early on with grants from foundations such as The Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Lumina Foundation who recognized it as an important higher education innovation. Lumina has continued to support the program, most recently with a grant to help College Unbound fine tune a clear business model and plan for scaling over the next five years.

There was much applause, laughter, and tears after the vote on May 20th. College Unbound students left the boardroom expressing their gratitude to the Council. Perhaps College Unbound student Ruth Jennings said it best: “College Unbound was thinking of me and believing in me before I even knew they existed. Thank you for creating a space for adult learners to succeed.”

Ruth will graduate next weekend, receiving an associate’s degree from College Unbound’s accredited partner Charter Oak State College. She will be honored along with 13 of her College Unbound classmates, all receiving bachelor’s degrees, at 1:00pm on Saturday, May 30th at the Met school campus, 325 Public Street, in Providence, Rhode Island.

About College Unbound
College Unbound (CU) is a non-profit, degree-completion, institution of higher education. It is a high-tech/high-touch institution in which academic progress requires both online instruction and on-ground action research, application and supports. This hybrid blends the best practice in distributed learning, off-site learning, and collaborative peer-to-peer learning. The program is interest-based, project-driven, cohort-supported, and workplace-enhanced. It is college that is unbound from traditional schedules, curriculum, and delivery models, designed specifically for the scholar-practitioner. CU targets low-income, under-represented adult learners who have a minimum of nine college credits but no degree.

CU students create personal learning plans using interests, strengths and identified knowledge and skills gaps to chart a path to earning a bachelor’s degree. Prior learning experience is credited. Students work their plans by engaging with a variety of online resources and discussions, participating in workplace learning experiences, and designing and completing high-interest projects. Each project has a problem to solve, research to do, people to talk to and solutions to test. The student’s Personal Learning Network, a team of experts and peers, supports each project. Students maintain online portfolios, and twice per semester demonstrate knowledge and skills through public analysis of their work.

About Big Picture Learning
Big Picture Learning’s mission is the education of a nation, one student at a time. As a non-profit organization dedicated to the fundamental redesign of public education, Big Picture’s vision is the generation of innovative, personalized learning environments that work in tandem with the real world of their greater community. At the core of Big Picture Learning’s mission is a commitment to equity for all students, especially underserved urban students, and the expectation that these students can achieve success. For twenty years the Big Picture network has served over 26,000 students in 20 U.S. states and another 5,000 students in 6 countries around the world.