An Innovative Guide Through the Higher Ed Landscape

Increasingly, the old model of earning a college degree by simply choosing a school, paying cash to cover room, board, and tuition, and graduating within four years (with summers off) is passé. Currently, the average student takes six years to finish college and has about $37,000 in student loan debt.

Higher education’s escalating costs and increasing complexities are driving students to seek alternatives to save time and money. At the same time, higher education providers—public, private non-profit, and for-profit—are in a state of constant change. While innovations, such as competency-based schools or technical certification programs, are often helpful, they can also make the path to a degree more confusing to navigate.

One promising innovation was created in response to that confusion. Founded in 2004, Lumerit Education helps students cut their way through the maze of options by providing counseling, services, and information. In total, Lumerit has served over 22,000 students from all 50 states and from 23 countries.

Lumerit enables students to earn up to three years’ worth of college credits, but without limiting them to the course offerings of a single institution. This is possible because Lumerit is familiar with the course offerings and transfer policies of over 750 colleges and universities across the country.

Co-founder Woody Robertson told the Martin Center that small and mid-size colleges and universities offer course content through Lumerit’s online platform called the “Global Digital Classroom.” Lumerit also owns and provides about 140 accredited self-paced  (4 to 12 weeks) courses. As a result, students who sign up with Lumerit (Lumerit Scholars) have about 40,000 available courses to choose from. Students may also earn credits by taking competency-based tests through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

Lumerit’s streamlined approach may help students avoid the hassle that transfer students often must tackle on their own. For example, students frequently have to delay transferring because a class they need is waitlisted or is not offered in a timely manner. Lumerit is designed to help students bypass such inefficiencies.

Once Lumerit Scholars earn enough credits to transfer (or have earned the maximum credits their desired program will accept), they apply as a transfer student to the four-year college of their choice. In North Carolina, Lumerit Scholars may apply to schools such as Gardner-Webb University, Duke University, NC State University, and universities within the University of North Carolina system, among others.

Another important component of Lumerit’s services is the extensive counseling and mentoring they provide. Before officially signing up as a Lumerit Scholar, students are assigned an admissions advisor who helps them develop a personalized four-year course progression plan. Students tell the advisor what they are interested in studying and to which schools they would like to transfer. When creating a four-year plan, the advisor finds the most cost-effective and high quality courses that fit each student’s transfer timeline.

In addition, each student is assigned his or her own personal success coach. Students meet their coaches online frequently to discuss the student’s academic progress and answer any logistical questions the student may have.

Lumerit’s expertise does not come cheaply. For a cost of $4,200 or $6,000 a year (depending on how many classes a student wants to take), Lumerit provides key information about each institution’s courses, such as how much they cost and what requirements they fulfill.

And, according to co-founder Robertson, Lumerit makes accessible “bundled discounted credits,” which typically save the student 30-50 percent of the cost. Lumerit also guarantees the credits transfer to the student’s “destination college.”

Some may wonder whether it is worth paying for logistical help for tasks that one can in principle do on one’s own. But parents and students alike often are at a loss as to how to navigate through universities’ transferring terms and policies. And transferring credits from more than one college only further complicates an already convoluted process. Lumerit can save customers many hours of research and communications and gather information in a more comprehensive fashion than can individual students or families.

In fact, according to a study by Complete College America called The Four-Year Myth, a common reason why students take so long to graduate is a lack of academic counseling and proactive planning. Hence, the services that Lumerit offers could prove to be invaluable and may even be the determining factor of whether a student graduates on time.

 Aside from the convenience of not having to maneuver through administrative obstacles, Lumerit advertises that it helps make college more affordable. Although Lumerit does not claim to eliminate debt, it does advertise that some of its students graduate debt free. This is because Lumerit often connects students with courses that are less expensive than those at an average university.

 Lumerit customers include both traditional college-aged students and non-traditional, according to co-founder Woody Robertson. These include corporate employees seeking to benefit from the flexibility Lumerit offers.

 Colleges and universities might also benefit from forming a relationship with Lumerit. Much of academia has suffered a steady decline in enrollment numbers in recent years. According to the American Association of University Professors, only “34 percent of colleges met new student enrollment targets this year by May 1,” down from 42 percent in 2015. If it attracts more clients, Lumerit could provide a new alternate pipeline of students to friendly colleges and universities.

But Lumerit is only one example of the many innovations that are trying to shift the higher education landscape. For instance, in addition to programs like Lumerit, there also has been a proliferation of “competency-based” programs that allow students to earn credit through CLEP examinations or from professional experience in place of traditional coursework. Students who take this route finish college at an accelerated speed, sometimes in significantly less time than a traditional degree would take.

Western Governors University, which is now chartered in seven states and Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey are examples of how the competency-based model is growing in popularity. Alumni of these schools include prominent public figures, such as the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks.

Students today overwhelmingly view higher education as a means to employment, a series of hurdles to be gotten over as quickly and inexpensively as possible rather than as a means of personal, intellectual, and professional formation and fulfillment. Services like Lumerit could change the future of higher education by responding to their needs and helping them overcome those hurdles efficiently.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    I was unable to understand this part of the article: “[S]mall and mid-size colleges and universities offer course content through Lumerit’s online platform called the ‘Global Digital Classroom.’ Lumerit *also* owns and provides about 140 accredited self-paced (4 to 12 weeks) courses. As a result, students who sign up with Lumerit (Lumerit Scholars) have about 40,000 available courses to choose from.”

    Since Lumerit is not recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education for Title IV purposes, how are their “owned and provided” courses accredited? What is the accreditor that verifies minimal federal standards are met, including faculty rosters?

    If Lumerit’s college courses are not accredited, what school would accept them in transfer? Are Lumerit Scholars eligible for Pell Grants, or federally guaranteed student loans, or not?

    • Shannon Watkins

      Glen, Lumerit’s courses are regionally accredited– however, Lumerit does not accept financial aid. This is what its website says: “We do not accept financial aid or government loans. Instead, we offer competitively-priced courses and flexible payment options. You’ll be able to choose the package that’s best or you and pay-as-you-go.” Source: http://go.lumerit.com/bachelors-by-age-18-ph/

      • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

        If Lumerit’s courses are regionally accredited, then it is an injustice to withhold Pell grants from participating students. There must be some reason for denying students access to financial aid. I think the program needs to be much more transparent about itself.

        So far, I understand that Lumerit produces and runs its own courses for certain schools which are willing to vouch for their educational quality to the regional accreditor.

        Are these courses also available to sponsoring-schools’ matriculated students? Have schools filed the appropriate substantive change requests with the accreditors? Do the accreditors have policies and procedures by which to consider these out-sourced courses? Are faculty at the schools aware of what is happening? To what extent do faculty retain control over the course content, as required by federal law? What is the status of the faculty rosters for courses “provided” by (which I assume means, taught) Lumerit?

        WGU’s courses were also regionally accredited, but DOE’s OIG audited them, and found many fell short and were really correspondence courses instead. Is Lumerit vulnerable to this same criticism?

        • Scott Whitaker

          Glen, if the answers are the following, I would like to know. I am not speaking for Lumerit by the way. I am seeing if these answers would satisfy the demanding requirements you set. I have a real interest in meeting demanding requirements for reasons other than for Lumerit.

          Are these courses also available to sponsoring-schools’ matriculated students? Yes, but in a different section. Section 6 of Am Hist 101 pre-civil war is set up for just the outside students, but sections 1-5 are available to the sponsoring schools matriculated students. There is no mixing of matriculated students from sections 1-5 with those in section 6. is that acceptable?

          Have schools filed the appropriate substantive change requests with the accreditors? On a course by course basis at the proper time of the year, but not as an exception during an inappropriate time of year, and as part of an overall multi-course program, not one by one.

          Do the accreditors have policies and procedures by which to consider these out-sourced courses? The college would be in response mode to this question, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t the accrediting body have to initiate this step? When one or all of the 5 regional bodies sets up these policies, the college would respond to them.

          Are faculty at the schools aware of what is happening? Yes.

          To what extent do faculty retain control over the course content, as required by federal law? Several parts to this question: A) the out-sourced course faculty member is defined as an Assessor, and has to have the required qualifications to meet Highly Qualified Faculty status (M.A. or higher in the field, or M.A. plus 18 hours in the field, all documented and sent to the sponsor college administration, and pre-approved by the sponsor college administrator) but has no 1-yr or 5-yr or any contract at any level which would add them to the college faculty body at assistant, associate or full professor level. B) “Faculty” has control through the sponsor college administrator dean who him/herself has faculty status at the sponsor college, acting under authority of the faculty senate, and with the consent of the dept chairs involved in each course. The control is pre-approval of the qualifications, pre-approval of the course syllabus, pre-approval of the fit of the syllabus to the pre-established ILOs at the course and department level, consent, oversight, and registrar actions to establish the credit at the school; C) yes, according to federal law, but why the need to appeal to that, other than what is obvious? Why appeal to feds when we wnat to reduce their encroachment, not exceed it? Federal law is more enforceable when federal aid is attached. Why not reduce the need for law as well as the need for the aid in the form of a reduced top-line tuition fee per credit hour for such courses?

          What is the status of the faculty rosters for courses “provided” by (which I assume means, taught) Lumerit?
          See above. THey are not adjunct, not assistant etc, yet they have the same qualifications (I.e. HQFs) in order to satisfy accrediting requirements as well as to have high standards for the work!

          • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

            Thank you for responding to and clearing up my questions.

            >>Are these courses also available to sponsoring-schools’ matriculated students?
            Scott replied: Yes, but in a different section.
            Glen: Okay. This makes sense.

            >>Have schools filed the appropriate substantive change requests with the accreditors?
            Scott replied: On a course by course basis at the proper time of the year, but not as an exception during an inappropriate time of year, and as part of an overall multi-course program, not one by one.
            Glen: My Substantive Change question was a red herring because at the accreditation level S.C. requests deal with the scope of accreditation, usually triggered when online programs/enrollments reache a certain threshhold. It is never done on a “course by course basis” because this would overwhelm the regional’s small staff; once the threshholds are crossed, then it is too late, so there is no timing issue here either. The school either gets prior approval on time, or it does not.

            >>Do the accreditors have policies and procedures by which to consider these out-sourced courses?
            Scott: The college would be in response mode to this question, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t the accrediting body have to initiate this step? When one or all of the 5 regional bodies sets up these policies, the college would respond to them.
            Glen: Again, the question was to highlight the lack of oversight and laxity in dealing with out-sourced courses (if, in fact, this is what they are).

            >>Are faculty at the schools aware of what is happening?
            >>Yes.

            >>To what extent do faculty retain control over the course content, as required by federal law?
            Scott replied: Several parts to this question:
            A) the out-sourced course faculty member is defined as an Assessor, and has to have the required qualifications to meet Highly Qualified Faculty status (M.A. or higher in the field, or M.A. plus 18 hours in the field, all documented and sent to the sponsor college administration, and pre-approved by the sponsor college administrator) but has no 1-yr or 5-yr or any contract at any level which would add them to the college faculty body at assistant, associate or full professor level.
            Glen: Okay. This is the way it is supposed operate, per Title IV. HQF are vetted by the sponsoring college — Could the school list the HQF the schools teaching faculty roster? See below.

            B) “Faculty” has control through the sponsor college administrator dean who him/herself has faculty status at the sponsor college, acting under authority of the faculty senate, and with the consent of the dept chairs involved in each course. The control is pre-approval of the qualifications of the HQF, pre-approval of the course syllabus, pre-approval of the fit of the syllabus to the pre-established ILOs at the course and department level, consent, oversight, and registrar actions to establish the credit at the school;
            Glen: Okay. This meets accreditation requirements.

            C) yes, according to federal law, but why the need to appeal to that, other than what is obvious? Why appeal to feds when we want to reduce their encroachment, not exceed it? Federal law is more enforceable when federal aid is attached. Why not reduce the need for law as well as the need for the aid in the form of a reduced top-line tuition fee per credit hour for such courses?

            >>What is the status of the faculty rosters for courses “provided” by (which I assume means, taught) Lumerit?
            Scott: See above. They are not adjunct, not assistant etc, yet they have the same qualifications (I.e. HQFs) in order to satisfy accrediting requirements as well as to have high standards for the work! They are outside contractors and are not even on the vendor rolls of the college. Many of them are or were adjuncts at other colleges before taking on this arrangement.
            Glen: Accreditors have rules about not including instructors on faculty rosters (has to do with something called institutional “integrity”), but are very lax at enforcement.

            Thank you for the clarifications!

  • Dr__P

    Typically the issue is not of the classes, per se. Indeed, the Department of Education has many ways to give credit for life experiences and/or corporate or other organizational training. A big provider of training is the military.

    Accrediting bodies are interested in institutions that offer DEGREE PROGRAMS.