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Students enjoy a sunny day on Drexel University's campus.

Drexel University and Peirce College established a transfer pipeline between the two private institutions to support workforce development among adult learners.

Drexel University

Drexel University and Peirce College in Philadelphia established a partnership for adult learner education in the region with a new pilot program for online education and health-care apprenticeships.

The pilot, called the Peirce-Drexel pathway program, seeks to connect adult learners with an online associate degree at Peirce before transferring to an online bachelor’s program at Drexel. The apprenticeship uses a local hospital to provide hands-on learning and workforce training in medical billing and coding for students between the two institutions, as well.

What’s the need: The health-care and medical research markets in Philadelphia are expected to surge over the next 10 years, according to a Drexel press release.

Part of Drexel’s strategic plan involves engages adult learners to diversify revenue sources and meet the needs of the 21st-century student, says Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, senior vice president for graduate and online education.

As of 2018, over one million learners in Pennsylvania have earned some college credit but never graduated with a degree, making up 2.9 percent of the national share, according to National Student Clearinghouse data. Public Pennsylvania institutions have faced lower enrollments over the past decade, pushing many to merge or create partnerships to stay afloat.

In Philadelphia, there’s a need for upskilling and reskilling the workforce, and the partnership aims to tap into those needs.

Working together: The partnership leverages Peirce’s primarily adult learner population with Drexel’s career-readiness programming and experiential learning model, according to the release.

“Drexel is really well-known for its co-op programs, for interfacing with partner organizations,” Van Bockstaele says.

Adult learners make up the majority of Peirce’s learners, with 98 percent of students over 21 years old and the average age of 37, according to the college’s website. Drexel’s total population has 33 percent adult learners, but only 8 percent of undergraduates are over 24 years old, Van Bockstaele says.

On the ground: To be eligible for the Peirce-Drexel pathway, a student must have earned fewer than 24 college credits. The learner first enrolls at Peirce to earn an online associate degree, with the opportunity to tack on certifications related to their industry.

The associate degree then transfers to Drexel and can be applied to two online bachelor’s programs—a bachelor in general studies or a bachelor in health services administration. The university is in the process of extending opportunities for additional online bachelor’s programs this summer, Van Bockstaele says.

Drexel has an established online learning program for graduate students but is looking to adapt and gain best practice understanding from Peirce staff regarding how to serve online adult undergraduate learners, she adds.

The two institutions also partnered with St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia to establish an apprenticeship opportunity for medical coding and billing certificates offered at Peirce. Similar to the pathways program, credits earned can be used for a Drexel online degree.

Drexel has an established apprenticeship program in cybersecurity, so that model will be adapted to Peirce’s certificate programs. The university plans to seek additional partners to expand offerings in medical coding and billing apprenticeships, as well.

The two programs will officially launch this fall with enrollment and the one-year pilot will allow for review of outcomes.

“We are so confident that, with our different strengths, bringing them together, we’re going to be so much stronger,” Van Bockstaele says.

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