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ASU's Earned Admission program paves the way for second chances

More than 5,000 learners have earned their way into college despite challenges


Hands typing on a laptop.

ASU's Earned Admission program is paving the way for nontraditional learners to earn their way into college. ASU photo

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May 15, 2024

Over the past few weeks, students across the nation celebrated significant milestones — National College Decision Day and commencement, for example.

But not everyone gets to make a decision to go to college. Sometimes a decision has already been made for them.

That was the case for AlexanderAlexander's last name is being withheld for privacy. . As a teenager growing up in a tumultuous environment, involvement in illegal activities resulted in his incarceration.

Once he was released from prison, Alexander found it difficult to adjust to a new life as a formerly incarcerated person. Then he discovered the Earned Admission program at Arizona State University.

“When I first came across the program,” he says, “I jumped at the opportunity because I know how hard opportunities are to come by. It’s very rare for someone to be given a chance at success or a chance at a future, let alone a second chance. And ASU offers a chance to people who have never had one.”

ASU launched the Earned Admission (EA) program with an eye toward those people — people for whom the historically exclusive college admissions processes have meant college is not an option. Since then, more than 5,000 individuals have earned their way into a four-year degree program at ASU. In fact, the ASU spring 2024 commencement saw a 75% increase in EA graduates.

Through the Universal Learner Courses, EA learners take first-year college courses online from ASU’s leading faculty to earn credits — and admission into college. Learners earn those credits for a fraction of the cost and pay only if they pass.

Coming out of incarceration, Alexander found learning basic computer skills daunting. However, the program’s self-paced learning approach proved to be a game changer, and he was able to master computer skills while keeping up with classwork. A clear pathway with outlined goals and expectations made it easy for Alexander to stay on track. His hard work paid off, and he completed the EA program with straight A’s, newfound skills and confidence.

Video courtesy ASU Learning Enterprise

The Earned Admission program illustrates the mission of ASU’s Learning Enterprise — the pillar of ASU that advances universal access to learning at every stage of life.

“At ASU and in our charter, we measure ourselves not by whom we exclude, but by whom we include and how they succeed,” says Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of Learning Enterprise. “Alexander’s story shows how Earned Admission provides a flexible on-ramp to higher education.”

Alexander is now two years into pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy through ASU Online. When he graduates, he plans to go to law school and hopes to someday clerk for a judge and work in a public defender’s office. The ability to pursue his bachelor’s degree through flexible online courses taught by ASU’s world-class faculty has helped ease the transition from EA to undergraduate courses, and success coaches and comprehensive support are available to him 24/7.

“While incarcerated, I dreamed of having a chance to go to college, so I explored pathways to get into school,” he said. “My goal was to practice self-determination. Now, I’m living my dream. I’m going to college, and my goal of going to law school is a reality. It’s all possible because of ASU.”

Casey Evans, chief operating officer for EdPlus at ASU, said ASU Online’s programs aim to offer students like Alexander access to the education they might not otherwise have.

“With the student at the center of everything we do, ASU Online was strategically designed to provide students high-caliber educational experiences through the digital immersion modality, allowing more students the opportunity to achieve degree completion, regardless of their geographic location or life circumstances,” she said.

Eventually, Alexander wants to go into private practice to help kids who are left behind, a common thread he noticed in incarcerated individuals like himself. He dreams of finding those kids, advocating for them, giving them a voice and helping the disenfranchised. The specific degree, philosophy (morality, politics and law), is getting him one big step closer to fulfilling his aspirations.

“The Earned Admission pathway creates hope,” Alexander says. “ASU does not tell people ‘You can't,’ but instead tells them, ‘You can!’”

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