Rethinking College

PBS NewsHour's continuing series on innovative ideas in higher education returns for a month of reports on the future of higher education


2017 archive

Every Tuesday night from August 22 through September 19, 2017, PBS NewsHour airs its annual special 5-part Rethinking College series. NewsHour Correspondent and Weekend Anchor Hari Sreenivasan traveled throughout the United States to profile five innovative programs designed to make college more affordable and provide non-traditional students the higher education they need to compete in the global marketplace.

Rethinking College is funded by Lumina Foundation. Education coverage is also supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and American Graduate: let’s make it happen.

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017

Purdue invests in students’ futures with new model of financing

Under its new financial aid program, Purdue University’s “Back-a-Boiler” Income Share Agreement provides funding for students who agree to pay back the university a percentage of future earnings. The ISA allows Purdue to give students aid based on what they think the students will earn when they leave college. Students agree to pay a percentage of their income for a set period of time after graduation. The ISA allows the university “to have some skin in the game,” according to Purdue’s President Mitch Daniels. As more cohorts of students graduate using the ISA, the payoff to the university, private investors and students will become clearer.

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017

Apprenticeships and the need for ‘middle skills’

Colorado’s new statewide apprenticeship program provides high school and college credit and pays students for their work. Manufacturing companies like Intertech Plastics in Denver are battling shortages of skilled labor brought on in part by a gap in workers with “middle skills” – jobs that require more than a high school education but less than a four-year undergraduate degree. As a result, Intertech’s CEO Noel Ginsburg and the state of Colorado partnered to form Careerwise, an apprenticeship program that links Colorado industries and school districts. Critics have expressed concern that apprenticeships could lead to short-lived jobs that improved technology could eventually wipe out.

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017

Georgia Tech’s Online Masters

Georgia Tech’s online computer science masters degree program provides more non-traditional students accessibility to a Top Ten program – and saves them a lot of money. “For our on-campus degree, it’s somewhere north of $42,0000 a year; for the online, it’s $6,600 for the entire degree,” said Charles Isbell, senior associate dean at Georgia Tech. Online students are more likely to be older and hold full-time jobs. There are twice as many students of color enrolled in the online program than on campus. The average starting salary for graduates of the masters program is $150,000. Does human interaction suffer when there is no physical classroom? Isbell says no. “If you’re in the fourth row, the fifth row, the 27th row, you’re about as close to me as someone who is online, right? You’re not really getting the face to face interaction.”

Tuesday, Sept.12, 2017

Retraining coal miners

Efforts to help unemployed coal miners earn their community college degrees and complete on-the-job work training are underway in West Virginia. The number of coal jobs fell by 60% between 1980 and 2015 due to automation and competition from natural gas. Brandon Dennison, who grew up in Appalachia, earned his masters degree in social entrepreneurship, and returned to the area to help retrain displaced workers. In 2010, Dennison founded the nonprofit organization Coalfield Development Corporation, which offers degrees and training for those looking to open up new businesses in sustainable fields like furniture making, solar installation and agriculture.

Tuesday, Sept. 19

Subscription degrees

Northern Arizona University’s online Personalized Learning bachelor’s degree program allows students to move through courses quickly by proving competencies through on-the-job experience. Students take as few or as many courses as they can in a six-month “subscription period,” which allows them to go at their own pace. While there has been little research yet to show if personalized learning benefits students, the program has opened up the possibilities for success for nontraditional students like Terence Burley, a 42-year old father who dropped out of college years ago. Burley lives on the Navajo reservation, 160 miles away from campus, and is using federal grants to pay tuition at Northern Arizona’s Personalized Learning program.

About the PBS NewsHour

PBS NewsHour is seen by over four million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets, and via podcast. PBS NewsHour is a production of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA Washington, D.C., in association with WNET in New York. Major funding for PBS NewsHour is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS and public television viewers. Major corporate funding is provided by BNSF, with additional support from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Lemelson Foundation, National Science Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Ford Foundation, Skoll Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Friends of the NewsHour and others. More information on PBS NewsHour is available at On social media, visit NewsHour on Facebook or follow @NewsHour on Twitter.