World Education University’s mission statement begins with a simple statement: Education should be free. Scott Hines, chief operating officer and one of WEU’s founders, has taken up the cause of education and passionately defends the global right to access it for free.
“I am a product of free college education,” Hines said. Having grown up in a foster home, college was financially out of his reach. After being accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hines was able to receive an education on the government’s dime, and served in the Air Force for 10 years. He started a free tutoring program called A to Z In-Home Tutoring, which grew into a national company, and then sold it to a foster care provider.
Somewhere between serving in the military, founding a tutoring company, and also serving as mayor of Rancho Mirage, CA, Hines founded World Education University as a new player in the online global higher education movement. As more and more universities adopt online learning methods and elite institutions champion free online course platforms like Coursera, edX and Udacity, WEU (pronounced We-You) aims to become a comprehensive, degree-granting institution designed to reach the global masses and better the lives of millions.
Scott Hines would like to reach billions.
Ensuring a future for WEU graduates
“We start with students, first and foremost. We want to provide for their needs.” Hines identifies employment as one of the main needs of today’s students. “We believe higher ed is failing the corporate world by not graduating students who are ready for the workplace.”
WEU includes a competency-based model requiring students demonstrate industry competencies in their respective subject areas before the graduate. Educational design revolves around industry needs and the needs of each student.
While it is exciting to hear of another higher education movement that sees the employment of its graduates as a priority, a challenge WEU faces is based on perception. Employers these days often factor in where a candidate earned his or her degree when making the decision to hire or not hire. At first glance, enrollment in a free, global online higher learning institution like WEU may not impress the standard résumé reader. WEU aims to tackle this problem in two ways:
- Though it hasn’t happened yet, WEU is headed in the direction of granting full degrees and diplomas while maintaining its 100% free model. But how will employers accept it? Hines maintains his optimism by observing the wide interest in WEU. As of last week, more than 50,000 prospective students had signed up with their email addresses, all despite an almost total lack of official WEU marketing. “Given the extreme demand we are already seeing from people hitting our website, I don’t think it will be too difficult to get the general economy to accept our degrees and diplomas,” Hines said. “We have a winning combination on our hands: High quality programs that are designed and validated by industry, and potentially millions of desperate people who will never have access to the current (higher ed) system.”
- For each student it graduates, WEU will provide a full record of academic performance, complete with a set of competencies mastered and specific skills. This record will be available as a web page for employers to read, a digital recap of exactly what kind of performer each WEU graduate is. The idea challenges the traditional résumé model and is even more comprehensive than a LinkedIn profile. The system also encourages student accountability to truly apply oneself in the program. Essentially, WEU is communicating to its students: if you work hard for yourself, we will work hard for you.
Hines believes that other Massively Open Online Course models like Coursera and Udacity are also heading toward some kind of credential system. But these are platforms that rely on the collaboration of the universities with which they partner.
“If they offer full degrees, they then compete with their collaborators that have invested in them,” Hines said. “It could be a case of biting the hand that feeds them.” As an independent venture with over $1 million in angel investments, WEU doesn’t have to worry about biting any hand. “We cherish our independence,” Hines said. “It fuels our innovation.”
Adaptive, lifelong learning
WEU students will benefit from the Pinpoint Adaptive Learning System (PALs), which is designed to help each student in terms of learning strengths and interests. The system is integrated into each student’s curriculum and guides learning paths by continually shifting content in response to the students’ feedback and performance. The system first uses a cognitive learning assessment which uses behavioral algorithms to determine how best to help each student. From there, the adaptive learning begins and guides the student through their curriculum.
Students are free to move at their own pace. Hines envisions WEU as a life-long institution for students of all ages, viewing its goal as a “self-contained education ecosystem for learners ‘pre-K to gray.’ ” WEU will eventually offer programs and learning experiences for children though high school and a wide array of enrichment classes for senior citizens.
Meeting global needs with teachers who care
WEU’s mission includes the conviction that “education is a human right, and an educated world is a safe, wiser, and more peaceful world.” WEU’s advertisement of its desire to positively impact the world has drawn the attention of disenchanted professors and faculty members who are unhappy with the status quo. “People get the need and want to be part of the movement we are creating,” Hines said. “Teachers are growing disappointed with a system that prides itself on elitism and they want to join us instead.”
“We created a company for engaged academic professionals to shepherd and coach students through their learning journeys. We make it interactive. We give them the opportunity to reach millions,” Hines said.
WEU aims to inspire a movement of socially conscious global citizens who use what they learned to give back to local and global communities.
Many of WEU’s customers are in national economies with workforce development needs. Hines offered the country of Nigeria as an example, a country with revenue that streams from natural resources such as oil, gas and mining.
“We can develop and design programs within these industries because they are so meaningful for that national economy.” Hines compared this plan with the efforts of community colleges that often design academic programs around local labor and workforce needs. WEU aims to do the same, but on levels that benefit entire nations.
“Though we are consummate social entrepreneurs, we are also experienced businessmen who have designed a model that is self-sustaining in order to achieve that,” Hines said.
WEU plans to launch this fall with a range of course options including programs in business administration, computer science, chemistry, fine arts, paralegal studies, mathematics and others. The curriculum changes often and Hines believes it will continue to grow and change higher education forever.
“You wouldn’t believe the backlash we are already experiencing from traditional academia. I don’t think we all exactly realize just how disruptive we are.”