By Zach Chouteau
Have you ever heard of a college program with no tests or required attendance that lets you gain a degree on your own time and in your own way? The Standard dropped by an open house for Concourse Education last weekend, held at the Leadership Public Schools on Bissell Avenue, and discovered a group looking to help turn the traditional learning model on its head.
The brand-new Richmond-based nonprofit is now partnering with a recognized online learning institution based in New England to offer just such a program. And it’s aimed in particular at working adults and other Bay Area residents who just aren’t an ideal fit for the traditional college experience.
“We have about 50-60 students initially and anticipate having 100-200 moving forward,” said Eli Bildner, a Concourse co-founder, who said the project-based program has drawn participants from as far away as San Jose—and that the current student age range runs the gamut from 19 to 45.
For starters, Concourse is teaming up with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to offer a Business Management BA program through SNHU’s innovative College for America (CfA) program. What truly differentiates CfA is that it allows busy working adults to gain credits via their proven mastery of a subject rather than attending classes and taking tests.
“Part of our main message is that getting a degree is possible for busy adults and people whom traditional programs haven’t worked for,” Bildner explained. “This is a customized program with them in mind.”
While the actual program itself is overseen by SNHU, Concourse plays a big part in student success by matching up participants with an academic coach for weekly meetings, forming ‘sections’ of 25 and ‘teams’ of five for collaboration and note-sharing, and hosting a ‘micro-campus’ at 1015 Macdonald offering Internet access, academic support and even snacks.
“It’s a truly redesigned, radical approach to college,” remarked co-founder Jeff Manassero, with a background in the academic world that includes serving as academic dean at Leadership Public Schools. Between that seasoning and Bildner’s biz background that includes an MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, the duo’s combined acumen seems ideal for the innovative educational venture.
The program already has some strong community partners in their corner, including Leadership Public Schools, LEAP, College Track, Summer Search, JUMA and Students Rising Above.
Maria Ortega, who hails from Mexico originally but has lived in Richmond most of her life, offers a unique perspective on Concourse’s new program as both a new student and admissions intern. Unsatisfied with some past roles in food service management, she hopes to obtain a BA that leads to a job she loves, preferably with ample travel.
“This will help me reach that goal,” Ortega told us with confidence. But she also said that regardless of what happens ahead, she will look back on her Concourse experience one day with only good memories.
“I’ve never been met a group of people who are so genuine, supportive and happy,” Ortega enthused.
Interested parties, take note—Concourse has their final deadline for 2018 application/enrollment on Friday, Sept. 14. You can find out more at www.myconcourse.org.