Leaps & Loops | Rethinking the Rhythm of College

10/19/2016

Good news today. But in order for you to understand how good, I need to catch you up to speed…

The Problem:
For the past century, this is how we’ve seen learning:

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We cram most of our organized, formative years of learning into the beginning of our lives. Then we’re supposed to go do great work. Forever.

This is almost as ludicrous as me suggesting that you should only exercise until your early twenties and then never work out again. Though some of you may have done that, it’s not advised.

This style of learning has gravely impacted higher ed and society as a whole:

  • Students lose focus on why they’re in college and how they’ll actually use their degree; which is one of the factors leading to a near-50% dropout rate among college students.
  • College is wildly expensive and any opportunity to work or leave campus is seen as extracurricular. Not only does that make working and earning money more difficult, there’s little opportunity to engage the world in an accredited manner – leaving students with massive debt and little direction after school.
  • Students leave college only to realize they’ve prepared for the wrong career. In fact, only about a quarter of graduates work in a field that was directly related to their major.

I know all of education could use an overhaul in one way or another, but Higher Education seems especially ripe for re-imagination. It’s our last time in the system before we’re supposed to be ready for the rest of our lives. It seems important that we continue to improve that system in creative and compelling ways.

Here’s an idea…
In 2013/2014, we spent time with our friends at Stanford’s d.school as part of their Stanford 2025 project. That project along with the groundbreaking SUES Report helped us to think about ways students can leave campus to travel, work, research, and study with the blessing and support of the campus. They call it Looping, we call it Leaping, but it’s the same idea: college shouldn’t just consist of primarily classroom learning crammed into four years.

Students ought to have time and space to design a season away from campus and engage the world as part of their degree. This would help students gain greater clarity for their next steps, build their body of work at a younger age, bring those experiences and lessons back to campus, and set the foundation for thinking about learning as a lifelong practice.

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With that in mind, last Spring…

We started building a second program. Our 12-month graduate program focuses on three apprenticeships in a year (Fall, Spring & Summer) while taking a full suite of courses. But, what if we truncated that program into 3 months so students could leave campus to study, work, travel, and earn a full semester of credit?

Ei’s Leap Semester is just one version of the Looping idea. And thanks to our partners at Sage Corps who help navigate all of the ins & outs of international work placements, we can bring together the best parts of internships and study abroad into one, awesome semester. Now, we need to partner with colleges and universities.

Good news on a long journey…

The idea of actually partnering with colleges seems lofty. We’re told there’s too much red tape, bureaucracy, and too many decision makers.

However, all of this caught the attention of the Office of the Provost at Columbia College in Chicago. The effort we’d made to bolster our curriculum gave them enough of a prototype to share our program with their Business & Entrepreneurship Department. Their team was able to review our curriculum, meet with our partners at Sage, vet our entire idea, and create a partnership for Ei to launch a Leap Semester as a fully accredited program for Columbia students. Columbia College is even going to offer a full 12-credit transcript to any student from another school who participates in the program (ie: they’re acting as our School of Record)…meaning anyone, from any school, can participate this Spring.

In the future…

Obviously, all of this is just one version of the idea with one school. We’re exploring ways to create “Leap Years” for colleges to offer as an option for incoming students who want to take a year between High School & College. Or we may invite universities to bring all of their experiential offerings under one roof at their institutions so students can better design their undergraduate education through experiences that the campus offers. The list goes on…

What about us older folk?

I’ll write more about that next week. Stay tuned.

For today, know that colleges are interested in innovation, and companies are interested in exploring how to create more seats at the table for “Leapers.” It won’t happen over night, but things are shifting for the better. And I think that’s good news…for all of us.

Keep Leaping,
Victor

PS: Yesterday, we launched applications for the Spring Cohort Columbia College students. The invitation went to 8,000 students and we already have our first applications. If you know someone who should take their Spring Semester to join us, from any university, you can nominate them here: www.leapsemester.com/nominate. Together, we’ll build a great cohort of stellar college students.