College Unbound, a nonprofit, independent college in Providence, Rhode Island, serves low-income working adults who are returning to college to earn their first degree. Four years ago, College Unbound was authorized as the 13th college in Rhode Island (the first new college in the state in two decades). Since then, it has earned candidacy for regional accreditation and qualified to participate in federal Title IV student financial aid programs.
Below, four higher education leaders look at the 10-year journey through regional accreditation and the innovation behind College Unbound’s learner-centered and student-driven approach to higher education.
The highly nontraditional model of College Unbound—a unique institution designed for low-income adults who have started college but not finished—presented regional accreditors with a challenge. Louis Soares and Ursula Gross look at the tensions between innovation and accreditation that such institutions present—and how they can be overcome.
David A. Bergeron, senior fellow for postsecondary education policy at the Center for American Progress and formerly of the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, considers how College Unbound works to reconcile the goal of greater access for older adults with the lack of meaningful outcomes.
In 2015, Robert L. Carothers joined the board of College Unbound after stepping down from serving as the president at the University of Rhode Island for 18 years. Most of the students came thinking of themselves as having failed, he writes, but College Unbound “taught them to reframe failure and to see that their lives had been about learning, even if they could not see it.”
Johan E. Uvin, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership and former acting assistant secretary under the Obama administration for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, writes that College Unbound is likely going to be one of the few innovation breakthroughs in higher education. “The reason is simple,” he says. “The approach seems to work.”