Disruptors and innovators in education, pt. 3: Challenger universities

February 21, 2022

Jayde Robertson

If you’ve been following our blog, (we recommend that you do) - you would have been privy to the launch of our disruptive and innovative educational institution series. This is a series that we value greatly, and its core mission is to shine a light on industry-leading, and positively disruptive education companies and institutions. With a focus on technology and innovation in education, combined with creative teaching methods, this series aims to highlight the institutions that are disrupting higher education.

If you’re an education company, institution or school - and you believe that you’re a pioneer, a changemaker or a disruptor, then we want to feature you! Submit your contributions here to feature in one of our next articles.
These are companies that innovate, create an impact, and uplift communities. Empowering their students through education on a global scale. These are the companies that make us proud to be a part of this industry. Nearly everyone agrees that the traditional approach to education is outdated. At Pink Orange, we aim to help forward-looking institutions grow because these are the ones who are helping to educate and empower a new generation of purpose-driven leaders.

As a follow-up to our article featuring some of the most cutting edge coding Bootcamp schools, Future-Forward Learning - The Coding Bootcamp Way, we’re excited to introduce you to the world of Challenger Institutions! Here we feature 3 Institutions that are each, in their own right radically improving the world of higher education.

Pioneering change and embracing innovation

Attending university is one of the first real-world decisions that youth has to make. While in the past, a university degree was enough to guarantee employment, it’s today - less and less so. While preparing students to enter the increasingly competitive job market is in no way the sole responsibility of any university, it has become increasingly important to its students - particularly where they already bear the load of the cost of higher education. The importance of career readiness is particularly pronounced with recent findings that highlight the criticality of the student’s first job in predicting the quality of subsequent jobs.
Enter the world of Challenger Institutions - who exist to challenge the long-running status quo. To disrupt the industry. To leverage the power of innovation, while applying a student-first approach.

Without further ado, let’s introduce you to our top 3 Challenger Institutions - London Interdisciplinary School, Rivet School, and PelotonU.
Both Rivet School and PelotonU are part of the Hybrid College Network, with Rivet’s  Jeff Manassero, and PelotonU’s Sarah Saxton-Frump serving as co-chairs of the organization. The Hybrid College Network is a collective of nonprofits that both recognize and appreciate that the typical ‘college student’ is no longer the standard - that a fair amount of those students working towards a college degree do have a family to support, a career to maintain - and responsibilities outside of their pursuit of higher education. A coalition of 15 nonprofits across the US - the Hybrid College Network strives to double graduation rates, halve the cost involved with pursuing a degree, while effectively eliminating race-based completion disparity.

The London Interdisciplinary School - The future of education is interdisciplinary

It’s not news that we’re living in not only a digital world - but an interconnected one too. Simply put, our world is complex. Gone are the days of graduating with a degree, and subsequently sliding into your spot in the world. Things have changed - exigencies are rigorous, companies need more than a degree. They demand real-world skill, knowledge, and practical experience. Future leaders need more than an academic career. They require knowledge that spans beyond the siloed structure of our current (higher) education system. Today’s graduates need to be more versatile, entrepreneurial, and more resilient than ever before. They simply need to be comfortable with, and accustomed to complexity - and they need to be able to tackle complex problems, with confidence.

This is where The London Interdisciplinary School (LIS) is pioneering change, by building a university that will give students the knowledge and skills that are needed to address social and global challenges in a highly competitive, rapidly changing, and interconnected world.  

LIS’s Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Interdisciplinary problems and methods is the first of its kind in the UK. Students study fundamental theories and concepts from multiple disciplines across the sciences, arts and design, technology, the social sciences, and the humanities. This is done to empower them to combine their knowledge and solve complex problems with an interdisciplinary approach. These diverse sources of knowledge provide the lenses through which to understand the given problem and identify innovative ways to tackle it.

At the same time, students learn a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods that can be used to tackle the problem at hand but are also highly transferrable. United through coaching, members of the LIS Faculty support small groups of students by creating a space for synthesis and metacognition- a space for students to try out new ideas and get things wrong. These weekly sessions help students solidify their learnings and create connections.
LIS’s commitment to connectivity goes beyond academics and is deeply integrated with the world of work. Each year, LIS broker optional paid internships for undergraduate students at some of the UK’s most prestigious public institutions, global enterprises, and exciting start-ups, as part of the broader LIS Network: a growing and active community of employers and organizations who are all committed to tackling complex problems. During their time at LIS, students will have multiple opportunities to engage with organizations from across the LIS Network, and beyond.

The teaching approach at LIS is based on the best-proven pedagogical methods. Their broad curriculum requires an equally diverse range of teaching styles, and delivery mediums, which have been designed to facilitate students’ learning. Taking a hybrid approach to education, the learning and development of LIS students extend beyond the constraints of a traditional lecture theatre or classroom, to include online sessions and in-field settings. Students use online learning where it works best: for lectures, workshops, and interactive coding groups. Where meeting face-to-face is more valuable — i.e. where practical learning is called for, one-to-ones, and small group teaching— students convene at the Whitechapel campus.  

Having recently launched their coveted master’s (MASc) degree, LIS has pioneered an approach that is built to navigate the complexities of the future - not the past. This master’s has been designed to equip students with the hybrid skills, connected knowledge, and interdisciplinary mindset they need to future-proof their careers. Graduates of the MASc degree leave with an analytical toolkit, and the mindset that employers need.  
The allurement of collective intelligence is the key to unlocking interdisciplinarity. The sharing of mental models from across boundaries of expertise can create new and relevant modes of understanding and experiencing the world. Interdisciplinarians join forces to achieve more together than disconnected minds can do on their own. Whether joining LIS as an undergraduate or a master's student, LIS alumni will be at the forefront of change, innovation, and the movement that is Interdisciplinary education.  If you’d like to find out more about LIS or apply for enrollment - visit them here.

Rivet School - Built for real life

While there’s certainly space for everything, and everyone - traditional education is fast becoming an outdated system built for the past, and it no longer serves the needs of the future. Traditionally speaking, the university system is built on a pillar of 3 kinds of students - reflecting a widely-recognized culture that values, and promotes independence - where prospective students would be able to leave home at a ‘typical age’, and direct all of their time, energy - and resources towards a single endeavor. This simply isn't the case anymore, where the majority of students come from highly diverse cultural, financial, and age backgrounds - from a world where family and community are of a higher value than the individual. This being said - some institutions see this shift, that has pivoted towards the new view, who have found the opportunity in the challenge - and have made higher education more accessible to traditionally underrepresented students.

Say hello to Rivet School, the nonprofit organization that affirms the notion that college just isn’t working for everyone anymore - which is exactly why they exist. Inspired by the economic mobility of the past, and driven by the potential mobility of the future - Rivet School was founded in 2018 with the sole purpose of building a college experience designed entirely around the needs of real students.
Rivet School co-founder Jeff Manassero was a career high school teacher and school leader. But when he learned that many of his students were struggling and dropping out of college, he left the classroom to try to find a better solution. Jeff met Eli Bildner, who’d spent his career working in online education and had grown frustrated that education technology wasn’t doing enough to serve all students. When Jeff and Eli teamed up with founding board members John, Lauren, and Ted, Rivet School was born.

With an ambitious goal to rebuild the higher education model, Rivet School prides itself on decreasing the amount of time that it traditionally takes to complete a degree, increasing on-time graduation, and unlocking economic mobility for its graduates. This is accomplished by pairing students with colleges that are the perfect match for working adults.

Rivet School partners with nonprofit, accredited universities to offer an accredited online, competency-based degree program, where each student partners with a personal coach who supports no more than 50 students. Students meet 1:1 with their coach to set their goals, and track progress. This is to ensure that each receives individual, and tailored support towards completing their degree.
Once students earn their BA, Rivet School supports them to find and secure a strong first (post-graduation) job. Given that their academic program is designed to be delivered online, and their coaching can be conducted virtually (via phone or video call), their program remains uninterrupted by COVID-19, fits into the demanding lives of working adults, and can be offered to geographies outside the immediate Bay Area - where Rivet School is based.
Rivet’s program is designed to be flexible, affordable, efficient, and supportive. In terms of flexibility, Rivet School enrolls its students in online, competency-based bachelor’s degree programs offered by partner universities. Their team curates and vets degree programs to include only those that are rigorous, mastery-based (ideally project-based), and self-paced. Rivet School also only partners with nonprofit institutions that unambiguously put students first. Their founding degree partner is College for America, a program of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) which offers BA degrees in Communications, Business Management, and Healthcare Management.
Their degree program range from a BA in Business Management to a BA in Communications - all of which enable their students to earn a self-paced, affordable - and career-focused Bachelor’s degree.- through one of their matched and accredited colleges.

At its very core, Rivet School’s mission is based on opportunity. Their team believes that a college degree provides a gateway to new, untapped opportunities and life-sustaining careers. As such, their mission is to increase long-term social and economic mobility for their students. Rivet School exists because their students – many of whom are Black and Latino, and the first in their families to attend college – have been blocked from economic mobility by inequitable and racist institutions. Rivet School is committed to countering the harmful impact of these institutions. They strive to be an equitable and antiracist organization—both by fostering an inclusive team culture and creating internal practices and policies that further equity for their students and staff.

To learn more about how Rivet School is challenging the status quo - or to apply for one of their programs, visit them here!

PelotonU - Graduating at your own pace

If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world is capable of flexibility. Corporates, start-ups, even some of the world’s most prestigious organizations pride themselves on promoting flexibility in the workplace, so who’s to say that the current generation of university scholars shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunity? The pandemic has been responsible for many things, including the exposure of something endemic in higher education: learner variability. This is not new. Institutes of higher education have long ignored, or paid lip service to the fact that students come from multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds, that they have differing needs, abilities, disabilities, constraints - and ages. University isn’t only for the 18-24 age group anymore - with over 70% of American college students now considered non-traditional, it’s time to add flexible learning opportunities into the mix.

Enter - PelotonU - a college support program building a new path to graduation. PelotonU is a nonprofit organization that is built for today’s students - ones that simply shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice an income, or existing responsibilities - to obtain a degree. The full-time coaches at PelotonU help ‘post-traditional’ students earn their college degrees, without having to put their life on hold. They believe that any student can succeed when given access to an affordable, flexible, and on-demand college program, combined with personalized coaching and support. PelotonU prides itself on providing working adults with a pathway, and the support to obtain a college degree, debt-free - and at their own pace.

We know that traditional education is under-construction, with the model of large buildings, seasoned faculty, and fixed semesters largely unchanged since Oxford was founded five hundred years ago. College is being reshaped by the demands of the real world, and it's ripe for reinvention. Traditional college fails to serve the nature of today’s students, simply because the majority of them don’t fit the conventional narrative. Today’s students are busy. They’re parents, they have full-time jobs, and a slew of responsibilities. These students desperately need college options that are tailored to suit their needs, lifestyle - and budget. PelotonU has reimagined the path to obtaining a degree, making it affordable, flexible - and supportive.

Their phased approach to matriculation ensures that students select a degree program that fits the schedules. After a preliminary discovery call, the team at PelotonU listens to your hopes, aspirations, and - more importantly, where you are in your life currently. They help their students find a university that fits their needs - and then move them to registration. After planning their finances, PelotonU students begin a free 6-week onboarding program, where students gain experience with college coursework, build their academic routine, and refresh their study skills. This is their chance to build confidence and reaffirm their decision to pursue a degree - ensuring they avoid unneeded debt and are ready, emotionally, logistically, and academically - to hit the ground running. PelotonU recommends committing 12 hours per week to school- allowing students to change when they study each week and graduate within two years - a rare opportunity for students with families and full-time jobs.

PelotonU’s co-founders, Sarah Saxton-Frump and Hudson Baird are firm believers in opportunity, and lifelong learning, supporting the notion that every person, regardless of their circumstance - or age - deserves a chance at obtaining their college degree. Having supported well over 350 students who are persisting in college at five times the rate of their peers, PelotonU stands strong in its commitment to respecting, and appreciating the fact that we all need help to do hard things, and their coaching model, and outcomes, reflect the sincerity of that commitment.
PelotonU offers its students a variety of degree options, from a Bachelor of Arts to an Associate of Arts, all achieved at the pace that’s just right for the student - through accredited colleges. Their on-demand degree options cost up to 50% less than traditional college pathways - ensuring that higher education opportunities are both accessible and flexible.

Their project-based degree programs empower students to learn while doing, to demonstrate their mastery - and then move on with their lives.
PelotonU believes that everyone deserves a workable pathway to a career-boosting degree — without the constraints and challenges that are posed through traditional pathways.  A self-paced degree is the flexible, affordable answer.

To find out more about pursuing a post-traditional degree with PelotonU, book a call here!

Are you a marketer curious to learn about the aspects that affect our industry?

Or do you want to tap into our expertise to sharpen your tactics? Look no further than our free downloadable resources. We work hard to research our content - and offer it to you - free of charge.