Online college offers new model

A private university has partnered with a for-profit company to create a “new model community college,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Tiffin University, a small private institution in northeast Ohio,  and Altius Education, a for-profit company based in San Francisco,  opened Ivy Bridge College in 2008.  An online community college, Ivy Bridge offers a general studies associate degree program targeted at traditional-age students planning to transfer to four-year institutions.  Full-time students pay $9,450 a year, more than public community colleges charge. Some financial aid is available.

Tiffin handles the academics — its accreditation extends to Ivy Bridge — and Altius handles the enrollment management.

Both sides argue that this divide helps maintain the program’s academic integrity, while also ensuring that the institution reaches out to a greater number of students, keeping the partnership financially viable.

Ivy Bridge offers much stronger support services than other online programs — or traditional community colleges — provide, notes Inside Higher Ed.

For instance, every Ivy Bridge student is assigned a “personal success coach” — a non-instructional employee — who helps with everything from course selection to academic support to career counseling.

Cam Cruickshank, Altius co-founder and vice president of enrollment operations, says early student success figures show the model is working.  Starting with 65 students in 2008, Ivy Bridge now enrolls 1,600 and is expected to hit 2,000 in the spring.

With six terms, students have numerous opportunities to start coursework.

In the short life of the college, its average term-over-term persistence rate is about 85 percent. If the college were on the traditional semester system, Cruickshank estimates that this would equate to a retention rate in the mid-60s. The national average semester-over-semester retention rate for full-time students at community colleges nationally is around 55 percent.

While Ivy Bridge has transfer articulation agreements with nearly 70 institutions, about half of students whove left Ivy Bridge have gone to Tiffin’s online or campus-based baccalaureate degree program.  Ivy Bridge transfers now make up 42 percent of Tiffin’s undergraduates, a major source of tuition income.

More than three-fourths of Ivy Bridge students are older than 21; the average age is 30.  Two-thirds of students are female and nearly half are black or Hispanic.  Most come from low-income households: Ninety percent are eligible for Pell Grants.

Success coaches check in with their students once a week by telephone, e-mail or Facebook, says Sarah Horn, who runs student support services.

 “They talk about how everything is going, both in class and in life. They set goals and help students follow through with them. When you’re a single adviser for about 4,000 or so students [at a struggling community college], you just can’t get to every request. Our coaches are held accountable to be proactive. The mission here is that we’re not going to wait for problems to arise to help our students.”

Ivy Bridge requires a high school grade point average of 1.8, essentially a C- minus average, and admits some students with lower grades who submit a writing sample. GED holders are conditionally admitted.

A visiting accreditiation team praised Ivy Bridge, saying Tiffin had stayed true to its mission.

“The concept of the Ivy Bridge partnership is an excellent strategic initiative. It addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum, efficient and effective academic support, excellent instruction, and a very good online portal for program delivery.”

Tiffin was approved for continuing accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools for the next 10 years.