Naropa University gets new partner to offer more first-year alternatives for students

The Boulder university is working with Verto Education to provide the experience

Naropa University gets new partner to offer more first-year alternatives for students
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Boulder-based Naropa University has partnered with Verto Education to provide study abroad experiences for students as an alternative to their freshman years of college.

Naropa isn’t delivering the courses students will take, but rather Mills College in California will grant academic credit for the courses students take while abroad, which will then be transferred to Naropa at the end of the experience. Students can defer enrollment at Naropa for up to a year. The program creates an easy path for students to transfer when they’ve completed their travel experiences.

Over the next two years, students will have the option to travel to the South Pacific, Southeast Asia or Latin America for the program.

Cheryl Barbour, senior advisor for institutional effectiveness and strategic initiatives at Naropa, said gap year programs have been gaining the interest of students. Many cite the ability to gain life experiences and grow, travel and break from the academic track as reasons they pursue a gap year, according to the 2015 National Alumni Survey from the Gap Year Association. The vast majority continue on to college within a year.

“In short, an alternative first year enhances personal development, academic preparation, preparation to work with a diverse and global community and helps clarify career goals,” Barbour said. “These benefits are in alignment with Naropa’s goals in providing a holistic education.”

Naropa already has a LeapYear program, which lets students experience an alternative first year in which they take 30 credits. It begins with a retreat in Colorado and then lets students travel in small groups to Nepal, Guatemala or Costa Rica for 11 weeks before returning for another in-state retreat. The second semester consists of a an 11-week internship and a final retreat.

Barbour said a mutual connection recommended Verto reach out to Naropa for a partnership, since the company is interested in integrating mindfulness into its curriculum.

“When we sat down to meet, we recognized a shared set of values and mission alignment,” Barbour said. “Naropa is looking to grow its undergraduate enrollment and it made sense to make an easy path for students from Verto to continue their education at Naropa.”

Verto has 20 college partners, according to CEO Mitch Gordon. Through Verto, students can apply directly to the partner colleges and ensure they stay on a four-year completion track by taking preapproved courses.

Students take 16 credits each semester with Verto, Gordon said. Classes are in the morning followed by hands-on experiences in the afternoon.

“For example, on our Dominican Republic and Costa Rica semester, students will study public health in the morning and then tour a local hospital or build aqueducts with a local community in the afternoon,” Gordon said.

Students can experience up to three countries during this experience. Housing varies between hotels, dormitories, homestays and group homes, he said.

Depending on the location, semesters with Verto cost between $12,000 and $18,000, which includes, room, food and tuition. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the educational experience, such as sports teams dues or groundskeeping, has been eliminated to keep costs affordable, Gordon said.

“Our higher education system is broken, tuition is sky rocketing and fewer than 40% of students graduate in four years,” he said. “Verto Education was designed (to) help students better understand why they want to go to college in the first place, and empower them to get hands-on experience out in the world.

“Traveling abroad gives you confidence and helps accelerate growth,” he continued. “It can also help students feel reinvigorated and learn by doing. Ask anyone who travels — it’s the best place to push yourself outside your comfort zone, develop a strong sense of empathy for other people and build self confidence.”

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