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Rio Salado College Joins Nine Educational Leaders to Reinvent Higher Learning

TEMPE, AZ – Rio Salado College joined nine educational institutions in Washington D.C. in late July to reinvent higher learning and the student experience as part of the EDUCAUSE - Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This is the third Breakthrough Models Incubator hosted by EDUCAUSE and NGLC, which is designed to bring leadership teams of forward-thinking colleges and universities together to develop and explore the latest innovations in new business and learning models for higher education.

The primary charge for the 2015 cohort is to create competency-based education (CBE) models, which reward students for skills they acquire rather than time spent in class.

Other anticipated outcomes include solutions to improve accessibility, affordability, student academic success and the overall student experience through personalized student services and technological innovations, especially for students who do not have access to or have difficulty learning in a traditional college.

Rio Salado was chosen to take part in the cohort because of its expertise in non-traditional learning.
“As a pioneer in distance learning, Rio Salado College has a rich history of creating innovative solutions that positively impact access, persistence, retention, and completion for students through scalable technologies, says Rio Salado College President Chris Bustamante. “Participation in the Breakthrough Models Incubator will help us to plan and implement competency-based initiatives and learn from the best-practices of others who are creating next generation learning models.”

Holly Morris, director of post-secondary model development and adoption for EDUCAUSE says, “Rio Salado College has so much to share with the cohort from its experience developing student-centered approaches and achieving operational flexibility that other institutions often believe is impossible. They are a great example of how to execute on an ambitious goal.”

Northern Arizona University, another NGLC grant recipient from 2012, now offers “direct assessment” competency-based academic programs. These self-paced programs, which are untethered by the credit hour standard, assess what students know and can do. Students can earn a Personalized Learning degree by completing assignments and assessments that measure proficiency in cross-disciplinary concepts.

This is the kind of innovation EDUCAUSE and NGLC expect from the 2015 cohort.

“We are hopeful that the 2015 cohort can build on the success of other NGLC grantees and take advantage of the momentum building in the field to make CBE an option for any institution that wants to offer it and any student who wants to experience it. Rio Salado and the other nine participating institutions are poised to do just that, by driving toward their individual programmatic goals while collaborating with others — where a common effort will serve us all.

“Our participation in the Breakthrough Models Incubator gives us a chance to collaborate with institutions that have broken ground with competency-based education,” says Rio Salado Dean of Instruction and Academic Affairs Shannon McCarty. “Rio has an opportunity to learn from their best practices and difficult challenges. It gives us a chance to leverage ideas and network with colleges and universities, creating a collective resource for higher education to provide continued momentum to develop competency-based education.”

NGLC and EDUCAUSE have been partnering with Rio Salado for some time. They provided a generous grant of $970,000 in October 2012 to help fund RioAchieve, the college’s student success program, which is designed to target five specific interventions that support student success, retention, and completion through technological innovations that help students and instructors track academic progress and personalized, ongoing communications with coordinators, advisors, and peer mentors.

The July meeting in D.C. is the first phase of the year-long Breakthrough Models Incubator program, which will provide 2.5 days exposure to new problem-solving approaches, and uninterrupted quality time to think, design and plan.

Phase II will focus on model design, whereby teams work with coaches and content experts to reinforce new ways of thinking and to create action plans.

Phase III will focus on design launch, feedback and reporting. The result for each institution will be a launch-ready plan by January 2016.

The other participating institutions are: Central Arizona College, Coppin State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Ivy Tech Community College, Metropolitan State University–Denver, National Louis University, Northeastern University, Simmons College and University of Central Oklahoma.

NGLC is an initiative led by EDUCAUSE, which is primarily funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. NGLC accelerates educational innovation through applied technology to dramatically improve college readiness and completion in the United States. EDUCAUSE® is a nonprofit association and the foremost community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education.

Rio Salado College is one of the 10 regionally accredited Maricopa Community Colleges and one of the largest online public community colleges in the nation, serving nearly 59,000 students annually with more than 30,000 online. Founded in 1978, Rio Salado offers 600+ online classes, 100+ degree and certificate programs and general education courses. The college also provides support for dual enrollment, military and incarcerated students and serves as one of the largest providers of adult basic education in Arizona.

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