UniversityNow is a social venture based in San Francisco, CA, whose mission is to ensure that a quality higher education is available to people everywhere. It is the parent company of Patten University. This offers rigorous, flexible and accredited academic programmess, available on an award winning online learning platform and on-campus at Patten University in Oakland, CA.
UniversityNow - mini-study
This is based on a visit by Paul Bacsich in June 2015 and updated in the light of later news.
Author's comments: I had been aware for some time of UniversityNow (http://unow.com) and had pegged it for a visit when next in San Francisco. They sorted out a visit for myself and a colleague from Ireland.
The visit was with the CEO and the Chief Product Officer.
The CEO confirmed that UniversityNow is now focussed on the Patten University arrangements. (The other half, New Charter University, has been sold to a Salt Lake City fund.) Indeed, UniversityNow bought and now own Patten University, so it is very much not a co-provider deal, in contrast to Laureate with Liverpool/Roehampton or Kaplan with Essex – Patten is the academic nucleus of UniversityNow.
UniversityNow deliver education via competency-based learning (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-robert-mendenhall/competency-based-learning-_b_1855374.html). This is best described as a sharper version of the "learning outcomes" approach, typical of UK HEIs but not much known in most other EU countries (http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/research/cppr/Research/pastproj/literaturereview.pdf). Some UK authors use the terms as synonyms – e.g. in http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/celt/pgcerttlt/specifying/speci10.htm – but they are not.)
Each module is assessed by a combination of a multiple-choice questions section and an assignment section (typically an essay but perhaps a calculation or spreadsheet), typically with equal weighting. Multiple-choice quizzes gateway students through each individual competence – there may be a preferred order or students may choose. Students can progress as slowly or as fast as they like through the competences module, and from module to module. Although there is no cohort-based activity, instructors are on hand to answer student queries.
This is not the place to debate whether competency-based education provides a "thinner" or "surface" style of learning compared with a traditional approach; what if anything is sacrificed when there are no explicit cohorts (several other DL providers have individualised learning); and whether the weaknesses of multiple-choice questions are alleged or real.
Two unique features of UniversityNow are that:
- There is no eligibility for student loans (under the US Title IV scheme) – this may seem harsh but fees are low and UNow contend that it saves a great deal of administration (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/10/08/universitynows-unique-approach-accreditation-and-federal-financial-aid)
- Fees are levied per month no matter how slow or fast one progresses through the modules.
There is also a special scheme for students in employment in the Bay Area (http://universitynow.com/college-works-faqs/).
The learning management system is proprietary.