Since last June, students at the for-profit Patten University have been able to take all-you-can-learn, competency-based programs online and at the institution’s campus in Oakland, Calif.
Undergraduate tuition is $1,316 for a four-month term or $350 for a month. Students can take as many classes as they can fit into their schedule. The average student takes three classes per term, says Gene Wade, CEO of Patten’s parent company, UniversityNow.
“We think it’s not just all-you-can-learn. We think there’s some fundamental changes to how the classroom works that are going to make it more likely that people are successful," says Wade, who delivered the keynote speech at UBTech 2013.
Patten keeps data on students that, among other things, indicates when a student is struggling with a concept and needs help from a faculty member. The data also show when a student is likely to pass a final assessment exam and complete a course. “In our model, you can’t sit for the exam until we know you can pass it,” he says. “You know going into an exam if you’re likely to pass because we’re giving you data and we’re forcing you to do the work.”
Private, nonselective colleges that depend on tuition may be the first tier of nonprofit higher education to lose students to more affordable, more flexible all-you-can-learn programs, Wade says.
“The fastest growing segment of the market is working adults and they love all-you-can-learn,” he says. “They’re not going to school to get socialized, they don’t want to sit down with the professor and have the professor tell them what to do when they grow up.
“They have a different set of priorities, so you’ve got to cater to that market or risk being not relevant or risk having your prices fall.”
Models like Patten’s could also bring new students into the market, such as adult workers who didn’t think they could afford higher education or fit classes into schedules that can include working long overtime hours.
“Let’s get away from credit hours, let’s get away from seat time as a measure of service, and talk about people learning,” Wade says. “Here, people are getting as much time or as little time as they need—what they’re paying for is access to the university.”