For a session at this year’s virtual UPCEA conference, the University of Minnesota (U of M) shared how 2U helped its boot camps quickly pivot at the start of the pandemic with student-first initiatives that continue to benefit learners today. Brian Torkkola, a program director at the U of M’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS), was joined by Shadee Barkan, 2U’s senior vice president of university partnerships, to discuss the U of M’s successes in offering expanded access and affordability.
When the pandemic hit last winter, the U of M had over 260 students in nine different cohorts for its 2U-powered boot camps in Coding, Cybersecurity, and Data Visualization and Analytics. The university was also running enrollment for a new UX/UI boot camp at the time. “Because 95% of our portfolio before the pandemic was delivered in-person,” Torkkola explained, “all students were sent home and all enrollment activity stopped. But then we immediately geared up to pivot both areas to live online sessions as quickly as possible. Thankfully, that switch was quick and easy.”
“It’s so vivid, that particular week,” Barkan recalled. “At 2U, we had more than 300 active boot camp classes running across the world. So there were thousands of students, and a majority of those classes were on-the-ground as well. Within a period of five days, we were able to transition them all to an online experience—with our operating principle rooted in making sure students were supported and the faculty was supported. There was an element of instructor training and onboarding that we had to facilitate to make sure we weren’t compromising the student experience. When we look back at that period, our Net Promoter Score is one of the highest in 2U history.”
Interest-Free Payment Plans and Need-Based Scholarships
With layoffs happening in nearly every industry around the globe, Torkkola explained that the pandemic compelled the university and 2U to look for ways to increase affordable career pathways together in order to help learners reskill. Through 2U’s partnership with EdAid, CCAPS was able to first offer a 24-month, interest-free payment plan to boot camp students mere weeks after its online pivot.
Torkkola described the plan’s immediate impact: “It's brilliant because it’s not a loan. CCAPS got approval in just over a week.”
Less than two months after offering the payment plan, the U of M was able to launch a scholarship opportunity for boot camp students from historically underrepresented populations who experience financial hardship. Part of 2U’s broader $3M Scholarship Fund for over 30 universities nationwide, the U of M’s scholarship is available to BIPOC and women learners who demonstrate both need and merit, with each scholarship providing $2,500 that can be used in conjunction with the payment plan. Once again, the university’s approval process took only one week.
“So, there you’re starting to drive a meaningful path towards affordability,” Barkan said. “We launched the $3M Scholarship Fund in the summer of 2020 and we are now at over 1,000 students ecosystem-wide who have participated. It really is much more manageable for the percentage of students who, even prior to COVID, have been able to benefit from this model.”
A Launchpad for More to Come
Specifically for the U of M, Torkkola reported that by the end of 2020, over 250 of its boot camp students had accessed the payment plan and over 30 of them had received a scholarship. “We’re simply delighted with the results and our ability to expand access and affordability to our boot camps,” Torkkola said. “Looking back, it’s just mind-boggling how quickly everything happened and that we were able to make a difference. COVID unlocked opportunities for us to think differently, lean on each other as partners, and collaborate at a faster pace than we ever would have thought possible.”
“I echo that sentiment,” Barkan said, “and I see this as a launchpad to more, as opposed to isolated opportunities that just got us through 2020. I’m excited where all of this is headed with CCAPS and our partnership. I think this is just the beginning of more initiatives to come that will help us continue to drive access.”
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