DENVER — Denver-based Advance EDU is working to close the equity gap and make college more accessible through a "learn and earn" model.
The program lets students enroll in one of their partner universities or colleges, such as Colorado State University and Southern New Hampshire University, while working paid career-building jobs.
Some of the employers the organization partners with include Liberty Global, Pinnacol Assurance, Denver Health and DaVita.
The online learning model allows students to earn their degree or qualifications at their own pace.
Kodi Toussaint had always worked in the medical field, but wanted to step out of her scrubs and into a supervisor or managerial role. She found Advanced EDU allowed her to work at Denver Health while pursuing her education and remaining present in her children's lives.
"I call myself a mature student because I am able to hold down the fort at my house and still work in my career and still being able to further my education," Toussaint said. "Sometimes it’s early mornings and late nights, and I feel like being a survivor of that is very -- it's something that I can uphold and be proud of and tell other people."
She's using her education route as a way to prove to her children that they can aim for whatever they would like to do.
"It’s something that they see that you don’t have to do everything a certain way. You can be out of the box. You don’t have to go to a big university and be on campus. You can kind of pick and choose how you want your career to go and what it looks like," Toussaint said.
Student Karen Guzman is working toward certificates in internet technology and coding.
"Advance EDU has helped with the goals that I have for myself, because before I came to Advance EDU, I didn’t really have any goals, any mindset, my future, my education. I knew I wanted to go into tech, but it wasn’t going to happen on my own," Guzman said.
Each student enrolled through the program is also set up with a coach. Guzman's coach helps guide her to different avenues, shares earning potential for different routes and provides a support system.
"My mentor has helped me a lot while I have been here with Advance EDU, because she has been supportive through everything, whether I am changing an idea or something that I want to do or a career path," Guzman said.
The program was set up in 2020 and has helped around 100 students in the first couple of years. The program is made up of 92% students of color, 88% students from low-income households and 90% first-generation students.
"It’s a new way to do college, and that’s what is really exciting. We are the first organization of our kind in Colorado, and the students that are doing it are loving it. They are staying with us at really really high rates," CEO Lauren Trent said.
Students interested in the program are most often looking to graduate debt-free, and for many, remain close to home.
"For one, we are an affordable option, and that opens up as a possibility to a lot more individuals, which is what we are all about," Trent said. "So it’s really that powerful combination of earning and learning that we feel the future of higher ed, and our students are doing it with great success right now."
Tuition through the program's university partners is as low as $6,495 a year, and 90% of Advance EDU students are attending debt free because of their federal financial aid eligibility.
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