New college aims at students with ‘grit’

Grit and graduation will be the focus at Portmont College, a new two-year program for disadvantaged students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles and the Gates-funded MyCollege Foundation partnered to create the new college,  which is designed for young adults with grit, determination and barriers to success.

The hybrid program, which will combine online and in-person components, was designed for students who have the potential to excel in college, but who lack other things—such as money, strong academic preparation, or a flexible schedule—that correlate with postsecondary success. Perhaps they’re first-generation students with so-so high-school grades, or working adults who are caring for elderly parents, or nonnative English speakers who struggled on the SAT.

Portman’s president, Srikant Vasan, defines grit as “being able to get over obstacles as they appear in your path, to stand up when you’ve been punched down, to set a long-term vision and a goal for yourself, and be able to keep those in mind.” He hopes Portman’s focus on non-cognitive skills will “bridge the achievement gap.”

Students will need a high-school degree or GED and at least a 10th-grade proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. They’ll start with a free online Launch Pad course. Over three weeks, college officials will evaluate students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors.

In the second phase (called “Ignition”), admitted students would participate in an in-person experiential-learning program. They would meet with a success coach and the peers who would form their “support community.” Later, during their first two academic terms, students would take two for-credit courses meant to reinforce what they’ve learned and provide continuing support.

Those courses would emphasize “core capabilities” associated with success in the workplace, such as critical thinking, communications, problem solving, and teamwork. . . .  Portmont will use academic and “behavioral” data to tailor student-specific interventions throughout each semester.

Portmont College at St. Mary’s will start in Denver this December, offering associate degrees in  business administration, computer science, liberal arts, and pre-health science. It will cost $5,240 per year.

“Academic confidence” is critical for community college students, concludes a new Community College Research Center study, which describes “ways to structure classroom and other on-campus environments to create opportunities for students to experience earned success and ultimately enhance their commitment to academic pursuits.”


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