Report on Demise of a Public-Private Partnership

May 17, 2019

In 2012 a new investor-backed company, Quad Learning, created American Honors, a partnership with community colleges for a national network of honors programs. The goal was to create a collaborative curriculum for students to earn affordable, high-quality associate degrees and then to help them transfer to selective four-year institutions.

Roughly two years later, the program enrolled 650 students at seven community colleges, with plans to expand to an enrollment of 3,000 students. But it failed to hit those targets, and last fall Quad dropped the American Honors program for domestic students. Wellspring International Education bought the company shortly thereafter.

A new report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College seeks to track the rise and fall of American Honors, with an eye toward gauging its impact on students and to offer takeaways for future public-private partnerships.

Community college partners reported that they benefited from the partnership with Quad, according to the paper, which was coauthored by Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant vice provost of research and program assessment for Ohio State University's Office of Student Academic Success. And the program seemed to deliver superior transfer outcomes for high-achieving students compared to the typical two-year college environment.

However, American Honors whiffed on several key business goals, the report said, including student recruitment targets, creating a common honors curriculum and establishing a strong network of four-year admissions and articulation agreements.

"Any external entity seeking to partner with colleges needs to have a thorough understanding of the current behaviors of its target population, to map out how the theory of change and business model interact for this population and to ensure that the theory of change and business model will complement one another rather than undermining each other," the report concluded.

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