Times are changing for technologists who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, and it’s something Samuel Rennix IV has experienced firsthand.
A senior systems administrator for account provisioning at Penn Medicine who’s worked in the tech industry for nearly 17 years, Rennix is now heading back to school. He’s one of the many Penn employees who are working to get a bachelor’s degree, after Penn made it a requirement for employees wanting to advance in the workplace.
For someone who has three kids and a wife, as well as a full-time job, Rennix needed an online degree program that fit into his life.
That’s why Rennix enrolled in Peirce College’s new competency-based education (CBE) degree program, where he spent this past fall finishing his first seven credits during the program’s inaugural term. The CBE program is currently aimed toward individuals seeking an IT bachelor’s degree with a concentration in networking, administration and information security. We first reported on it last summer.
So how does Peirce’s program differ from other fully online degree programs? Brian Finnegan, director of the CBE program and dean of information technology at Peirce, describes it as a program for those who are disciplined and highly-motivated to earn their educational credential.
For a flat rate of $3,000 per term, CBE students can complete as many “competencies,” or skill sets, as they can over the 15-week semester, adding additional ones as they complete others, Finnegan said. Speaking of money, students don’t need to buy a single textbook — all the required reading materials are made available for downloading online.
Because the program is self-paced, CBE students turn in assignments on deadlines that work for them and their schedule. But that doesn’t give students an excuse to slack off — the assignments range from project-based case studies simulating the kind of work these students will be, or have already been, doing to industry certification exams that show employers what they’re really able to do. Students must also complete these assignments at a B-level or higher to move on to their next assignment or competency.
And for those who struggle with finding the time to make that grade, don’t worry: flexibility is a key facet for Peirce’s CBE program. In fact, it was developed with the goal of removing any artificial obstacles that present themselves to the program’s prospective students, all of whom are working adults.
“Getting an ‘F’ on an assignment because there was a deadline and you were traveling for work is the sort of barrier that has nothing to do with actual skill development. It’s obstacles like this that stand in the way of success for a lot of adult students,” Finnegan said. “CBE eliminates that obstacle.”
Christa Donato, the CBE coach for the IT degree program, is a cornerstone for students to stay on track. Think of her as a much more-involved college advisor — she meets with each student twice a month (on-campus, over the phone or even by email), sends out a weekly newsletter to make sure the students know what’s going on as well as what’s expected of them and creates blueprints uniquely designed for each student to help them throughout their terms.
Along with being a coach, Donato is a cheerleader for these students: providing the motivation they need to keep going and understanding each student’s life situation and where they may face hidden obstacles. Whether its family issues, sick relatives to take care of or being a single parent, students can trust that Donato is there to work with them.
“It’s all about molding them and helping understanding where they’re coming from and helping them to adjust to college life again, or college life for the first time as adults,” said Donato, who holds master’s degrees in technology education and clinical mental health counseling.
“It can be a shock to students when they return. They have so many responsibilities, so I help them figure out how to balance it all.”
The school believes a program like this — the first of its kind in Philadelphia, according to Peirce — are needed for adults who want to ultimately advance in the tech industry.
“There are many adults who have some college education, some formal training, but no degree, and programs like this are perfect for that constituency,” Finnegan added. “That’s a lot of human potential to be realized in Philadelphia and across the country. Programs like ours can make that happen.”
If you think you’re a good fit for the CBE IT bachelor’s program, Donato encourages you to take the CBE Assessment to get started.
“There’s not one set mold for a CBE student and that’s what I think I love the most about being a CBE coach,” Donato said. “I handle each student’s case on an individual basis and give them the attention they need to be successful.”
As for Rennix, he’s happy he can attend a program that allows him to balance school with his job — and maybe the occasional Netflix binge with his wife.