A New Online Associate Degree

The latest model-busting higher education program comes from a novel partnership between a nonprofit college and a nonprofit organization, helped by a push (and some money) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Portmont College at Mount St. Mary's, announced today, is a new venture designed to provide online associate degrees to students who have more "grit" than traditional academic credentials. The program is a partnership between MyCollege Foundation, a nonprofit that received $3 million from the Gates Foundation as part of a program of grants for developing "breakthrough" learning models, and Mount St. Mary’s College, a Roman Catholic institution in Los Angeles with a focus on serving low-income and Latino students.

Dismayed by the achievement gap in American education, Srikant Vasan, founder and president of Portmont, set out to create a degree program that would be accessible to all students, regardless of academic background or finances. He chose Mount St. Mary's as a partner because he felt the college has a similar mission, one of access without sacrificing quality. He was also looking to join with an accredited institution to ensure that Portmont degrees would carry weight inside and outside of higher ed. Josh Jarrett, deputy director of postsecondary success for the Gates Foundation, notes that two nonprofits teaming up is a new model, but he anticipates it might create a path for others to follow.

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INSIDE HIGHER EDUCATION

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