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How SNHU’s GEM Works for Learners

A model that lets students drive their education—and overcome barriers to higher education.

The 2020 academic year brought unprecedented challenges to Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement (SNHU’s GEM). But in the face of displacement and a global pandemic, SNHU GEM students continued to study, learn, and succeed.

That’s a testament both to the resilience of our GEM learners, as well as GEM’s responsive and supportive competency-based model. After a challenging year, we’re more confident than ever that putting students in control of their own learning is a model that can be leveraged across education settings—with remarkable results.

What is competency-based education?
Unlike many traditional in-person or online programs, GEM’s competency-based education model doesn’t feature long lectures, deadlines, exams, or letter grades. Instead, students complete projects to earn competencies towards their degree—equivalent to traditional credits—by working on real-world projects designed to develop the skills they need for their future careers.

The initiative’s online, project-based degree model and the robust in-person resources enable refugee students, who often face additional barriers to accessing their education like working full-time jobs or living in refugee camps, to complete their studies at a self-directed pace. Through GEM, refugee students strengthen their skills for the global job market, as SNHU degrees are fully accredited and internationally recognized.

How does GEM work for students?
GEM’s competency-based program removes barriers to higher education by offering refugee students the opportunity to work anywhere with an internet connection. Students are given as much time as they need to complete their projects, with access to 24/7 online tutoring or in-person academic coaching at their local learning centers.

Once completed, students submit their projects to an SNHU faculty member for review. If the project meets all of the criteria from the project’s rubric, the student will receive a “mastered” status for that project. If certain areas of the project need improvement, the student instead receives a “not yet,” accompanied by detailed feedback and additional resources and advice. The student can then apply that feedback and resubmit their work on their own time and at their own pace as many times as necessary for them to master the project.

What degrees does the GEM program offer?
The following Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees are currently offered for GEM students:

  • B.A. in Communications with concentration in business
  • B.A. in Communications with concentration in healthcare management
  • B.A. in Healthcare Management with concentration in global perspectives
  • B.A. in Healthcare Management with concentration in communications
  • B.A. in Management with concentration in public administration
  • B.A. in Management with concentration in logistics and operations
  • B.A. in Management with concentration in insurance services

We also offer the following Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees:

  • A.A. in General Studies with concentration on business
  • A.A. in Healthcare Management with concentration on business
  • A.A. in General Studies with concentration on transforming customer experience

Does the program work for displaced learners?
Yes, and we think it can work for other students, too. Once all projects have been mastered and students complete their internship, GEM students graduate with their degree. Upon graduation students apply the real-world skills and competencies they have gained to find jobs and excel in their career.

On average, 98% of GEM learners complete an associate degree within four years of commencing their studies, while 88% are employed within six months of graduation. Scaling this model across higher education could help students who work full-time or face other obstacles achieve their full potential.