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Wraparound Services: Combining Place-Based and Competency-Based Learning for Student Success

The silhouette of a man standing between two hills at dusk looking  at the moon.

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I am reflecting on both the audacity of President Kennedy's challenge, and the ways that it changed how we think about what is possible. But for those in underserved communities, attaining a college degree may seem about as likely as going to the moon. In many ways, our direct assessment program, College for America (CfA), was an educational moonshot.

Could we make a college education affordable for those who had been shut out? Could we do our part to close the college attainment gap and increase employer confidence in the value of a college degree? SNHU thought so, and partnered with employers to introduce a low-cost, flexible model to their employees. In addition to earning degrees, students reported increases in productivity, satisfaction and confidence. Early word-of-mouth helped others imagine how else we might be able to serve learners in ways we hadn't imagined.

Global Education Movement

There are over 65 million refugees and displaced people around the world, with over 4 million in Africa alone. For those in a camp, attaining a college degree may seem about as likely as going to the moon. However, thanks to a new partner in Rwanda, we realized we could begin offering our CfA program both in the capital city, Kigali, and high on a hilltop on the western side of this stunning beautiful country. Students study communally in small classrooms, use technology powered by state-of-the-art solar arrays, and enjoy what we’ve come to call “wraparound services.” Our colleagues on the ground have devised these services to help students overcome learning obstacles in their affective or environmental conditions.

Wraparound services may include:

  • Advisors who help with contextualizing competencies, and coach students through learning challenges, like that moment when a student may be ready to give up.
  • Free lunch; it is hard to learn on an empty stomach.
  • Escorts. At the Kiziba Camp, village elders escort students home at night; the fear of walking home from late-night study sessions kept young women away.

College attainment leads to employment, which leads to opportunities to move from the camp into town or the city. We now offer CfA across Eastern Africa, through a number of partners, and continue to see the benefits of wraparound services as central to student learning.

Community Partners

Rwanda has some unique challenges to the growth of higher learning, and it may seem a world away from Boston. But while Boston is known as a hub for higher education, there is a significant gap in educational attainment for minorities in Massachusetts. Much of that can be attributed to a corresponding wealth gap. According to recent reporting, white households in the Boston area had a median net worth of $247,000 while non-immigrant Black households had a median net worth of $8. Even for some of the best students, no amount of college prep could allow them to remain full-time students while sustaining the rest of their complex lives.

Mike Larrson and Bob Hill, founders of the Duet Program in Boston, recognized that to move the dial on college completion, they needed to reimagine higher education to fit the needs of full-time workers who wanted to be students. To achieve this, Duet is centrally located downtown, near subway and bus lines, students are given free transportation, they serve lunch and dinner, and offer childcare on weekends. Their staff act as advisors, career coaches, and as sounding boards to help navigate challenges that come up. Duet was SNHU's first community partner, and we continue to welcome partners serving Pell-eligible students in cities across America, such as Idea-U in Texas, JEVS in Philadelphia, and the DaVinci School in Los Angeles, which has a focus on serving homeless youth.

At SNHU, our audacious goal is to connect talent to opportunity. As President Kennedy said in his famous moon shot speech, we do these things, "Not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

Learning what our students need to be successful and supporting them through a lifetime of learning requires us to imagine what is possible, much in the spirit of President Kennedy's audacious goal.

Amy Stevens is the Vice President of Academic Resources and Technology and Executive Director of CBE Program at Southern New Hampshire University. She holds advanced degrees in American Intellectual History, Teaching with Technology and is currently enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing. Amy has grown with the university, and supports SNHU’s commitment to access, affordability, academic excellence and rapid expansion.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.