It’s no surprise to anyone that our country’s current college education system doesn’t serve the students who need it most. There are several obstacles that prevent Americans from pursuing higher education, from the exceedingly high price tag of a bachelor’s degree to the inhospitable classroom structure for those who work or have other obligations. For many, life simply doesn’t allow for a traditional college pathway.

Enter PelotonU, an Austin non-profit offering debt-free degrees, personalized mentorship opportunities, and the supportive infrastructure necessary for people to actually be able to graduate college. According to Navid Ladha, PelotonU’s Director of Community Partnerships, one of the biggest problems with higher education today is that “college wasn’t created for people with jobs”. Meaning, the traditional college model hasn’t adapted to the needs of working adults who have commitments outside of getting an education. For people who must work to earn a living (aka, the vast majority of us!), it’s not exactly feasible to drop everything and go to class five days a week.

But PelotonU is changing that. They offer their students something different: affordable online courses, a self-paced learning curriculum, individual coaching sessions with College Completion advisors, and most importantly, flexibility and encouragement at every step of the way. “We get students all the time who never thought [going to college] would be possible, either because they’re working full-time or they just don’t have the support”, Ladha said. It’s these students who are thriving under the PelotonU model.

And of course, widespread access to higher education equals better workforce opportunities. As a member of Impact Hub Austin’s Workforce Development Accelerator, alongside other similarly-minded startups, PelotonU has spent the last several weeks building and expanding their network, and gaining the tools needed to further their educational mission. According to Ladha, this time has been invaluable. “It’s been so helpful to have everyone collaborating, bouncing ideas off each other, and pushing each other to think in different ways,” he says. “It’s also led to so many great connections.”

When asked what’s next for PelotonU, Ladha said, “We are hoping to come out of the Accelerator with stronger partnerships with local employers, and strategies in place on how to effectively help employers with retention, recruitment, and development of their non-degreed employees.”

Connecting employers with ventures like PelotonU is incredibly important for the collective good. When it’s easier for people to go to college and finish their education, it’s easier for people to become part of the American workforce -- and this is something we all benefit from.  

Join PelotonU and the rest of the Workforce Development Accelerator at their upcoming Community Showcase, where the team will present their innovative solutions to investors, entrepreneurs, and leaders from nonprofit, business and government sectors in the community.

Article Written by Justine Harrington. Justine Harrington is a freelance writer, travel journalist, and copywriter for lifestyle and business brands based in Austin, Texas by way of Oklahoma.