College Degree Benefits

Designing a new kind of two-year degree program for working adults

By Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn on March 14, 2019

It’s no secret that a college degree can significantly improve your job prospects. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an associate degree could boost a high school graduate’s earnings by about 20 percent, and reduce their risk of unemployment by 25 percent.

And yet, only about 40 percent of Americans have earned an associate degree or above. Why?

Individual reasons vary, of course. But a 2018 study found that the most common roadblocks fell into one of three categories:

  • Cost — 67 percent of prospective adult students said they were worried about taking on too much debt, and 57 percent were concerned about affording textbooks or other supplies.
  • Time — Two-thirds of prospective students were worried about balancing work and family responsibilities with the demands of school.
  • Real-world value — Only 55 percent of prospective students were positive that a degree was a wise investment, while 27 percent said it was “a questionable investment” with no guarantee of a better job.

These are valid concerns. The cost of college has ballooned over the past 40 years, traditional college courses are time-intensive by nature, and employers are increasingly skeptical of college graduates’ career preparedness. The problems aren’t limited to traditional degree programs, either — a recent study found that tech “bootcamps” come with a median price tag of $13,500, and that only about half offer comprehensive career preparation.

At Foundry College, we’ve created a different model. Our associate degree program is designed around a few simple, but fundamental, ideas:

  • College tuition can be affordable — and transparent. Foundry College courses cost $1,000 each, period. There are no required textbooks or materials, and no extra fees.
  • Homework should be the exception, not the rule. When class time is used effectively, students shouldn’t have to work outside of class—unless they miss a session or need extra practice. And by containing learning in the classroom, we can reduce the stress of juggling school with work and family obligations.
  • A degree can prepare you for a job. Most traditional degree programs say they prepare students for the workforce, but one study found that only 11 percent of business leaders agreed. Foundry College explicitly teaches the future-proof skills that employers say they need, and we continually update our curriculum in response to employer feedback, so our students can feel confident they’re prepared to excel on the job.
  • Mastery is what matters. There is no “E for effort” in the real world, and we want to prepare students for that reality. At Foundry College, students are required to demonstrate mastery of every competency taught in class. When they graduate, they know they have what it takes to succeed on the job—and so will their employers.
  • Support is not a “nice to have.” Juggling work, school and life will never be easy, and it’s completely normal for adult students to need extra support. At Foundry College, students meet one-on-one with a personal coach every other week, and can access up to three hours of academic tutoring per week — all at no additional charge.

Our model addresses many of the challenges that adults face when they consider going back to school, and we hope that it becomes an example for other colleges that aim to serve working adults. A college degree should be an accessible and exciting stepping stone toward a better future — not a huge investment of time and money, with a distant and questionable return.