Special to The Hays Daily News

Fort Hays State University has signed an agreement with ACE, the American Council on Education, to join 24 other colleges and universities in an alternative credit consortium as part of an innovative initiative to create a more flexible pathway toward a college degree for millions of nontraditional learners.

The 25 institutions serving in this pilot project have agreed to identify the criteria, quality and sources of potential alternative credit courses sought by students who successfully complete courses that are part of a selected pool of approximately 100 low-cost or no-cost lower division general education online courses.

FHSU President Mirta M. Martin signed the contract with ACE on Wednesday.

"FHSU is built on providing access to quality learning experiences," said Dennis King, director of the Virtual College and learning technologies. "Our involvement in this program will allow us to stay on the cutting edge of course design, delivery and articulation."

The participating institutions represent four-year and two-year, public and private, non-profit and for-profit colleges and universities that have a strong commitment to access and attainment and serving nontraditional learners. They are:

American Public University; Capella University; Central Michigan University; Charter Oak State College; Colorado Community College System; Colorado Technical University; East Carolina University; Fayetteville State University; Goodwin College; John F. Kennedy University; Kaplan University; Lakeland College; Metropolitan State University of Denver; National Louis University; Northern Arizona University; Northwestern State University; Notre Dame College; SUNY Empire State College; Texas Woman's University; Thomas Edison State College; University of Baltimore; University of Maryland University College; University of Memphis; and University of North Carolina.

Participating institutions have agreed to provide anonymized data to ACE regarding the amount of credit their institution accepts, as well as progress and success rates of students transferring in courses through this project. Additional college, university and system partners will be recruited in fall 2015.

This initiative is made possible through a $1.89 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its initial focus will be on the more than 31 million adults who have completed some postsecondary coursework but lack a degree or credential. Many of these students represent first-generation, low-income students, so findings from this investment likely will apply to younger students from this population, as well.

"The institutions serving in this pilot project will play a valuable role in helping enhance the work we have been doing for many years in developing quality mechanisms for determining the credit worthiness of education, training and life experiences outside of a formal higher education classroom setting," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad.