We believe in the power of college on-demand — but self-paced online learning isn’t enough on its own. College success isn’t about how much money, time, or smarts you have. It’s actually rooted in emotional support — that’s what makes PelotonU unique.
When the higher education system isn’t working, we all lose. Students who fail to graduate face obvious academic and economic losses. But hidden beneath these obvious costs are even more troubling ones: serious wounds to self-esteem.
Today, the majority of college students — 75% of them — are what was once deemed “non-traditional” or “post-traditional.” These students are over 24 years of age, have jobs and/or family responsibilities, and attend college part time. Today, just 16% of part-time college students ever graduate.
These students have come to believe that if they only had more money, more time, or more smarts, then they could graduate. Regardless of whether the barriers were structural or personal, students internalize this blame, but we know the college system was never designed to serve these students.
That’s why PelotonU’s approach addresses both structural barriers to graduation as well as personal ones. Through community, coaching, and care — the three pillars of our program — we remind students of their inherent self-worth.
Our coaching is different because it prioritizes emotional support. We foster hope through a sense of belonging. To get there, we focus on combating shame.
Most of us walk around wondering if we’re worthy or if we’re good enough. Dr. Brené Brown calls those inner whispers shame tapes — the persistent voices coming from outside or inside ourselves that often hint we’re “not smart enough” or “don’t belong.”
Dozens of nonprofits work to provide students with the tools and resources needed to succeed by addressing academic barriers, then logistical ones, then emotional ones. It makes sense — this is the order the barriers present themselves on the surface.
But when academic and logistical barriers are addressed first, it can actually allow more shame tapes to seep in, impacting a student’s sense of self-worth.
Telling a student they have “everything they need” to be successful means that when they struggle, their inevitable conclusion must be that something is wrong with them.
To combat this destructive narrative, PelotonU starts from a conviction that students are people first. Their dignity is unrelated to past performance in school or any problems in their daily life.
We prioritize emotional needs first, followed by logistical and financial needs, and finally address any unmet academic needs. Supported by behavioral economics and neuroscience, this approach creates more cognitive margin for students to address any challenges they’re having, and then focus more effectively on learning.
Four key pillars guide our coaching practice to ensure students reach their goals:
- We acknowledge the role of the higher education system
in making people feel shame. We help decouple our students’ negative experiences with education from their self-esteem by showing them the structures outside their control that made success so unlikely, even when they did everything right.
- We empower students to take control
of their education by highlighting their strengths and how to bring those strengths to bear on academics. We ensure students have the needed tools to solve their own problems, and then we insist they solve them.
- We actively combat shame in our coaching
and teach students about how to speak to themselves in ways that combat shame early on. We avoid phrases that may evoke shame and stay up to date on trauma-informed practices.
- We infuse grace into our practices
and consistently adopt an attitude of “not yet.” If a student misses a deadline, we first ask if everything’s okay — even if it’s the seventh time. If students need to take a break from school, we ensure that they remain enrolled with no long-term consequences to their academic standing, financial aid eligibility, or self-esteem. Though these students would have been dropouts from traditional programs, we work to solve problems and get them back to their studies as life allows.
We believe any student with the will and drive can earn a college degree regardless of geography or economics. Our model — one that pairs the flexibility of online, project-based learning with the support of coaching, community, and care — has proven effective.
If you support would-be college students who need a more effective, affordable, and flexible pathway to a degree, partner with PelotonU. If you are a student dreaming of earning a college degree, talk to us. We can’t wait to be on team you.