How MatchBeyond & SNHU Are Adapting Higher Ed for a Nontraditional Student Population
You might expect college students to be fresh-faced teenagers straight out of high school. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 25% of students enrolled in degree-granting institutions are over the age of 25. That population total has increased by 13% between 2005 and 2015. However, this older student population is often overlooked when discussing higher ed.
According to Mike Larsson of Match Beyond (recently renamed Duet), as this neglected student population keeps growing, there is an increasing need for specialized programs suited to their needs.
Listen in to our interview with Mike Larsson, in which he explains to us how credentialing programs geared towards that nontraditional student population allow for a better chance of gaining an education while still being able to support oneself.
Hannah Nyren: Welcome to the Ed Tech Times podcast.
Hannah Nyren: Hi this is Hannah Nyren with EdTech Times. And today I am speaking with Mike Larsson of Match Beyond, a nonprofit partnered with Southern New Hampshire University.
Hannah Nyren: So hi Mike. How are you?
Mike Larsson: Good. How are you today?
Hannah Nyren: Great. So tell me a little bit about Match Beyond and what you do.
Mike Larsson: So Match Beyond, what we do is we partner with Southern New Hampshire University. They provide a really unique online curriculum that was built just for working adults. So it’s flexible, it’s low cost, it’s also rigorous and what we do is we recruit students from the Greater Boston area and coach them through this program. We provide day-to-day coaching to help them earn their college degrees and we also provide career coaching as well to make sure they are able to leverage those degrees into jobs.
Hannah Nyren: So tell me a little bit about where it all began. What inspired match beyond?
Mike Larsson: So I’d worked in K-12 previously at a charter school called Match Charter School. And I knew a lot of students really well and a whole bunch of students who are really smart and really hardworking were not going on to actually earn college degrees. So we dug in we did a lot of qualitative research and followed them around for a couple of years and said “What’s really going on here?” And the narrative that if you’re smart enough, and you work hard enough, and you have enough grit, you’ll make it through college. We found to be false. It’s just actually not true. And that’s obviously bad for human beings who don’t have that opportunity. It’s also bad for society as we have lots of really smart hardworking folks who can enter the workforce but are basically being frozen out because they don’t have that credential.
Mike Larsson: So we came across Southern New Hampshire University that just launched a new program called College for America; nonprofit, accredited, rigorous. And we enrolled some of our students in that and really learned that really benefited our students and a lot of different ways. And also we could really highly leverage that through coaching.
Hannah Nyren: How is what you’re doing different today?
Mike Larsson: Than a few years ago?
Hannah Nyren: Than the beginning,
Mike Larsson: And than the beginning
Hannah Nyren: How have you grown in the past few years?
Mike Larsson: Yes we’ve grown a lot. First is we’re much bigger than we were. We have a couple of hundred students now we’re growing to 400 this time next year, and hopefully 600 a couple of years down the road. We serve now a much wider spectrum of students. The average age of our students today is 24, but they range in age from 18 to 55. We have students who work at the mall. We also have students who work at KPMG. And sort of what unifies these students is they’re stuck where they are and they really have no access to the traditional college experience, mainly because they have to work. And if you have to work, it’s really hard to get a college degree.
Hannah Nyren: Right, because you’re busy working.
Mike Larsson: That’s right.
Hannah Nyren: So tell me about your partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. What benefits do you get from the partnership and what benefits are they getting from working with you?
Mike Larsson: Yes so the benefits that we have is we get to work with a bunch of students who have access to this really great program. As I said is really flexible it’s all project based. It’s much more practical than a traditional college experience, certainly than the one I had. And then from Southern New Hampshire University’s perspective, we are able to really provide, give this, show this program to a whole bunch of students that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. And give those students the support that they need on the ground here.
Mike Larsson: Paul Blanc who’s the president of Southern New Hampshire University puts it well: what they’re really good at is curriculum, and academics, and making sure people are learning. And what we are really good at is building relationships with people here in Boston, showing them that this thing is legit, and then helping them actually navigate the real job market on the ground here in Boston.
Hannah Nyren: So you are talking on a panel today, in about an hour. So tell me what is the panel about and how does that relate to what you do?
Mike Larsson: Yeah the panels about “how do we help adults with some college degree set themselves up to get back into the workforce?” So, you know, often we talk about college students as 18 year-olds and 19 year-olds who are living on campus. Turns out that’s actually not college students in America today. 50 percent of the 20 million people that go to college are going part time in community college and almost all those working adults. And so there’s a tremendous opportunity to think about how can we better serve adults, 24, 25 year olds, help them get the credential they need, the skills they need to get into the workforce to help themselves and their families.
Mike Larsson: If we’re only focusing on 18 year olds in the college experience of 18 year olds, we’re missing out on tens of millions of people who the time is not even close to being done and their opportunity to advance in life.
Hannah Nyren: What do you think other universities and employers can do to help connect college students and careers?
Mike Larsson: I think. Well first, I think companies often really get off the hook when it comes to filling the positions that they’re unable to fill. They blame the people that they say are not skilled enough for their jobs, when really from our experience really a lot of the things that are holding back people from getting jobs:
Mike Larsson: One is the basically the up-credentialing of entry level positions. So I’m all in on students getting a college degree, they should. But there’s also a lot of job openings out there that really don’t require a college degree and if you look at the data, ten years ago did not require a college degree, the skills haven’t changed. They are basically just asking more of folks because they use it as a sifting mechanism. And because that’s the narrative, companies are now putting it on colleges to train people for the workforce, which is something the colleges were never designed to do. And colleges were designed hundreds of years ago, it was about training people for the workforce. So I think companies actually should be stepping up and if they have open positions, they should be thinking about one, why they have all these open positions.
Mike Larsson: Two, what sort of training they can actually be doing. The idea that if they have open positions, colleges and society should go use their resources to train people to fill open positions at these companies seems kind of silly but that’s how we talk about this stuff. And I think generally colleges should be, or companies should be forced to look at their own practices around hiring and the credentials that are required for the open positions they have.
Hannah Nyren: And so I’m a little curious, what students have you worked with and what outcomes have you seen from what you’re able to do to help them to gain their experience level and, you know, have they gotten better jobs?
Mike Larsson: So you know, a lot, most all of our students work, and we actually think that’s an opportunity, not a liability. Right, usually if you go to college you have to work, you have to focus on school. We think that’s wrong. Because the fact of the matter is if you go to a lot of 22 year olds also have a hard time getting jobs right out of college because they have a college degree but they don’t have any actual work experience.
Hannah Nyren: Or skills.
Mike Larsson: Or skills! And also too, I mean, let’s be serious. Most entry level jobs don’t actually require any sort of special skills. You know, often there’s like conversations about coding and this, that, and the other thing. That’s like point one percent of available open jobs.
Hannah Nyren: Right.
Mike Larsson: And so, you know, I think our students, well the way we work with our students as we help them while they’re enrolled with us, help them move along the spectrum of jobs so they’re gaining real world experience. So if they come to us and they worked at the mall for a year, how do we help them leverage that job into a bank teller job, because they’re at a place that one, they’ll get paid a little bit better, they’ll have benefits it’ll allow them to be more stable.
Hannah Nyren: It also looks better on their resume and it gives them, you know, the experience of having a real adult job as opposed to babysitting your neighbor’s kids.
Mike Larsson: Totally, totally. And I think most importantly, like we experience hiring as a pure butt-covering exercise by H.R. managers. Right. They only want to put people up there who they think are not likely to blow up as employees.
Mike Larsson: So they’re not incentivized really, to fill positions. They’re incentivized to make sure that they don’t have bad people fill those jobs. So the more legitimate companies that our students can have on their resumes, the better. And so what we do with our students is we help them identify jobs to even apply to. A lot of the problem we find is that job descriptions online make no sense.
Hannah Nyren: And sometimes the people making the job descriptions don’t really know what they’re looking for and they just put a laundry list of all the nice to haves.
Mike Larsson: Nice to haves and they require, they’re like “we should have a master’s degree for this job that pays 17 dollars an hour.” So we help people identify jobs, we help them get through the often tech-driven application process. You know, companies have decided since they can put an application on the Internet that they can get 10,000 applicants and then they have 10,000 applicants, they have to come up with computer algorithms to review resumes which often hurts people. And I think hurts companies.
Mike Larsson: So we help people get through that process and then we help people actually prepare for interviews and success at that individual company, as opposed to sort of broad, hypothetical support. And so then once they’re in these jobs, we ideally help them get to a place where once they do earn their college degree, they’re at a company that recognizes that college degrees they can go forward. So a lot of our students now, you know, we help them get jobs the hospital and then they have access to these internal job boards, they have that degree, they can move up.
Hannah Nyren: I can’t wait to see more people doing the work they you’re doing so, you know, students, workers can find the jobs and skills that they need.
Mike Larsson: Thank you.
Hannah Nyren: All right. Nice speaking with you.
Mike Larsson: Thanks for having me.
Watch the full video interview with Mike Larsson:
Jonah is a sophomore at Emerson College studying Writing, Literature, & Publishing as well as Political Communication. On campus, he is a publication editor, radio host, and on-air news talent. When he isn’t doing media-based activities, he enjoys reading a good book and having a warm cup of coffee.