Calbright has a very simple admissions policy: any adult Californian who has a high school diploma or equivalent is accepted if they apply. That’s it.
One reason we do that is because it’s part of our mission to make sure that every Californian who wants help transitioning into a better career can get it. But it’s also a more equitable and accessible approach than traditional college admissions. Complicated applications with a lot of paperwork can push away the very people who need access to education the most.
As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, that’s a conclusion that other colleges are increasingly coming to.
“(A) growing number of institutions, state systems, application platforms, and technology companies are experimenting with direct admission, in which prescreened students are promised a seat if they go ahead and apply,” Eric Hoover wrote. “Over the last year, dozens more colleges have signed up for the new initiatives, some of which remove conventional applications from the equation.”
So far, the experiment seems to be going well. Colleges not only report getting more applicants from these new approaches, but more diverse admissions – especially from non-traditional student populations and from students from families with no college history.
It’s a great start, but it’s also not enough. Making admissions easier is good for everybody, but getting accepted to a college by itself doesn’t mean the college is actually accessible.
Hidden Barriers to Enrollment
Many students simply don’t have the resources or a schedule conducive to attending a traditional college, even if it accepts them.
Writing in Inside Higher Ed last year, Steven Mintz pointed out that the higher education system is “ill equipped to serve the most rapidly growing student populations: those who come from low-income backgrounds and who received uneven preparation in high school; those who attend college part-time, swirl across multiple institutions, drop in and out of college, and juggle their studies with work and family responsibilities.”
Many simply can’t afford to go to college or are understandably afraid to take on significant debt. Navigating student aid forms can be as big a barrier as admission forms. Some potential students don’t have easy access to transportation or can’t find reliable childcare.
Virtual coursework can address many of these problems, but online classes can also be isolating, and many students don’t have access to the technology (or the technical support) they need to make online learning work.
Any one of these issues can stop potential students from attending a college that has accepted them. Even those who do attend, frustratingly, often face additional barriers to completing their degree .
Hidden Barriers to Persistence
A survey taken in late 2022 showed that over a third of college students said that it was very difficult to stay in their program. And according to information compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2020, only 40% of full-time students attending college for the first time actually graduate in four years.
The biggest issues cited weren’t academic challenges — they were life challenges. Jobs with unpredictable schedules made attending class impossible; the need to care for family members was incompatible with a demanding course of study.
And, unfortunately, those most in need of support are least likely to receive it. Systems of support in colleges are often impenetrable to students from marginalized backgrounds. How do you get things done in a new environment if nobody tells you how? Researchers call this “the hidden curriculum,” and it can be devastating to students who are struggling to access a better life.
Free Online Community College Is Just A Start
Calbright’s commitment to a truly accessible college environment means we go beyond making admissions easy. It means being more than a free online community college. It means creating systems of support that help students on every part of their journey here. We provide mentoring, and academic tutoring, and mental health support, all free of charge. We make sure each student has an individual support specialist working with them, checking in on them, helping them meet their goals. We provide a lending library where students can borrow the laptops and wi-fi hotspots they need to take online classes.
We use a competency-based education model, which lets students schedule their classes around their lives, instead of having to schedule their lives around their classes. Students can study whenever they want, for as long as they want; they can slow down when life gets busy, and work ahead when they have the time.
This is how Calbright is making a new kind of college – reimagined to make it accessible to all students, and help them succeed.