MissionU’s One-Year & Tuition-Free College: A Professor’s Reflections on this Alternative Approach to Education

 Gary Vaynerchuk @GaryVee (founder of @VaynerMedia) and Adam Braun @AdamBraun (founder of MissionU)

Gary Vaynerchuk @GaryVee (founder of @VaynerMedia) and Adam Braun @AdamBraun (founder of MissionU)

Do you work in higher education OR are you passionate about education? Do you see flaws in our existing educational system? Are you looking for ways to innovate and disrupt the system?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then this article is for you.

I have been a fan and regular listener of John Lee Dumas’s (@johnleedumas) EoFire. Last month, John interviewed Adam Braun @AdamBraun, who is the founder of @MissionU, a college alternative for the 21st century. Recently, I watched another interview where Gary Vaynerchuk @garyvee interviewed Adam again. Click here to watch the full interview. And click here to learn more about MissionU.

As I have been working in higher education as a tenure-track professor for more than a decade, I resonate SO strongly with many of the points mentioned in Gary Vee’s interview with Adam. In this article, I share some of the highlights from the perspective of a college professor who works within the system and who are passionate about seeking change to disrupt the existing system.

Lesson ONE: Four-step admission process

Forget about your traditional college admission process. 😱 No more pressures on getting the highest GAP and SAT scores possible. MissionU accepts students based on their unique four-step admission process, which is listed below.

  1. Self-introduction: Introduce oneself. Tell your stories as a unique individual and show your characters and traits that cannot be reflected through the traditional standardized exams.
  2. Admission Challenge: This is my favorite part of the admission process. It is an open-book challenge where students are encouraged to use the computer, Google, and the internet to complete the challenge. Did I mention, it is also untimed! As Adam explained in his interview with Gary Vee, “it makes no sense to take a test in a vacuum.” Amen! Thank you. I have learned from my personal experience that a timed test is definitely NOT the best way to evaluate students. I still remember the early days of my teaching career when exams were a heavy part of my curriculum. I was teaching an interpersonal communication class. I had a student who always scored full marks on exams and quizzes, but didn’t know how to communicate in real life with real people. It was a wake-up call for me: I slowly started to reduce and eventually abandon exams. However, exams are still unavoidable due to large class sizes oftentimes. If you are an educator in some regard, have you ever encountered a similar experience?
  3. Group Challenge: Once students pass the second challenge, they enter the third phase, where they enter a virtual classroom to complete a challenge as a group. The example that Adam shared with Gary Vee during the interview is about self-driving cars. As they are becoming more and more popular, will self-driving cars have a positive or negative impact on our culture and why? Students spend 35 minutes with a group to create a presentation and deliver it to one of the staff. The presentation is recorded so that the staff can watch them later.
  4. Personal Interview: The final phase is a personal interview with Adam himself or another member of the leadership team. Based on Adam’s interview with Gary Vee, it seems he thoroughly enjoys this phase. I would, too.

Lesson TWO: Collaborate with top-tier professionals to develop curriculum

I teach public relations courses. I see one of the biggest problems of public relations education — or education in general — is the disconnect between what’s happening in the classroom and what students are expected to deliver in real life. My mission as an educator is to serve as a bridge to connect the two sides. That’s why I embraced social media as a teaching pedagogy and why I use Snapchat to connect with my students and humanize myself as a teacher. So, as soon as I learned that MissionU collaborates with industry leaders to design their curriculum, I fell in love with MissionU. Below are some of the industries that MissionU is partnering with to enrich students’ learning experiences (image is a screenshot from MissionU website).

 

Lesson THREE: Career-Focused Curriculum

At MissionU, their current academic focus is on data analytics and business intelligence as a major. Adam shared during his interview that business is the most popular undergraduate major but many fresh graduates still don’t know “how to contribute to a business.” Adam shared how they selected their academic focus. The leadership team spoke with hundreds of people who are at the front line of hiring and found the following as the most demanded skill,

taking data and being able to use that to tell a story to make a business decision. It [data analytics] lives in every function of a business. And we have a huge shortage predicted in the years ahead.

My husband is a data scientist and does data analysis to make a living. I have seen how he changes from job to job with so much potential ahead of him. I can only imagine the possibilities for our students. I myself am not a data scientist but I absolutely see the importance of applying data to inform business decision making and to tell stories. Adam also mentioned in the interview that they are preparing to launch more majors such as nursing.

Lesson FOUR: Every individual can be a teacher & student

Historically, professors like myself have to go through training and certification to be qualified to teach. Oftentimes we have to turn down qualified professionals to become adjuncts simply because they don’t have an M.A, or Ph.D. regardless of how many years they work in the industry. I love Adam’s mindset of how every person can be a teacher and student. We are all forever students in today’s digital world with everything is changing so fast. The power dynamic is always shifting. There is a lot we can share with our students but a lot more that we can learn from them and everyone. We all have something to bring to the table. I love their flat structure when it comes to teaching and learning.

Conclusion

As an educator, our ultimate goal is to prepare students to become engaged citizens to make contributions to move our society forward. Our world has gone through some dramatic changes within the last several decades. Education needs to change to cultivate qualified students. Adam’s goal is to “build a college alternative for the 21st century.” I think this should be a common goal shared by many. Thank you, Adam, for embarking on such an incredible journey. We absolutely need more forward-thinkers like Adam, Gary Vee, Dennis Yu @dennisyu, Deirdre Breakenridge @dbreakenridge, Jason Mollica @JasMollica, Karen Freberg @kfreberg and much more. Let me end my reflection with a powerful quote from Nassim Taleb @nntaleb, author of The Black Swan.

Wind extingishes a candle and feeds a fire. likewsie with randomness, chaos, uncertainity; you want to use them, not hide from them. you want to be the fire and wish for the wind. we don’t just want to ‘just surivive’ on certainty, to just about make it. we want to thrive on it…

Let’s capitalize on uncertainty and chaos, and make our education environment a better place.