Access to Higher EducationRecognition of Prior Learning with or without Official DocumentationRwanda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Lebanon
SNHU | Global Education Movement (GEM)Author: Agnes Burume and Nina Weaver
SNHU’s Global Education Movement (GEM) offers refugees and others affected by displacement the opportunity to pursue US-accredited bachelor’s degrees while gaining professional skills and work experience. We enable refugee graduates to become leaders in their workplaces and communities. In collaboration with local partners, GEM leverages cutting-edge learning technologies and provides robust student support through our innovative blended learning model. This combination develops graduates’ technical and professional skills needed in both local and global job markets.
GEM’s evidence-based, student-centred approach fuels our mission to offer a comprehensive, context-sensitive, and scalable solution to bring high-quality tertiary education to refugees and marginalized learners across the globe.
In 2013, SNHU partnered with Kepler University Program in Kigali, Rwanda and added a location in Kiziba Refugee Camp in 2015. Beginning in 2018, GEM launched programs in South Africa, Kenya, Malawi, and Lebanon.
US accredited degree programs, including SNHU, require students to provide proof of high school or secondary school completion before enrolment. This poses a problem for many potential tertiary-level students who do not have proof of secondary school completion for a variety of reasons but are otherwise qualified for the degree program.
In refugee and forced displacement contexts, people may be unable to demonstrate proof of secondary school completion for a variety of complex reasons. Students who have completed secondary school but are not able to access documentation that shows proof of completion. People who are fleeing conflict and persecution are often forced to leave many of their possessions behind, which includes documents such as secondary school certification. Once outside of the country, it can be difficult or impossible to retrieve such documents or request additional copies from institutions or schools, especially if conflict is still ongoing or if a person is fleeing from political persecution in particular. In some cases, records may not exist even in the country of origin due to destruction or closure of schools or poor-record keeping at local or national levels. Students who have had interrupted schooling and may not have completed secondary school or taken the official secondary school examination required by the schooling system. Additionally, in some cases, such as the etilaf certificate for Syrian students in Lebanon, certain secondary school certificates may not recognised by one or more entities, preventing access to tertiary education and/or employment.
GEM believes that US-based alternative certification tests for high school, such as the GED and HiSET examinations, can be a valuable pathway to unlocking a key barrier facing refugees’ access to higher education.
As part of an in-depth case study, GEM supported a student in without a secondary school certificate through our partner, MAPS, which operates in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The student spent five months preparing for the GED exam, using a mix of online resources and in-person tutoring. With support from GEM and MAPS, the student travelled to Beirut to take the GED exam online and passed. The student is now enrolled in SNHU through GEM and is studying for his bachelor’s degree.
Additionally, in 2019, GEM partnered with a research team — led by Presidential Professor Juan Battle at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York — to conduct research and gather rigorous data across GEM sites to better understand how scores on the HiSET examination correlate to academic readiness and excellence at a university level. The research focused on identifying normalized scores for refugees taking the HiSET exam. Ultimately, over 1,100 HiSET practice subject exams were administered to over 450 students across four sites. Based on this research, the researchers developed a series of recommendations for measuring university readiness.
Limitations, Challenges, and/or Lessons Learned:
- English language level is important indicator for how students perform on English-based alternative certification tests such as the GED or HiSET. The student in Lebanon who was able to successfully pass the GED had a high level of English, despite not having a secondary school certificate. It is unclear how big the population of such students (with high levels of English and without appropriate documentation) is.
- US-based alternative certification tests require a good deal of preparation for international students because they are based on US high school curriculum. In particular the exam focused on social studies and US history can be difficult for international students to pass without targetd study.
- US-based alternative certification tests such as the GED may not be recognized as proof of high school completion for non-US based universities or governments. Therefore, passing the GED may only improve access to US or western institutions.
- Cost could be prohibitive at scale. It costs $600 for a student to sit for the GED exam (excluding costs for transport to urban centre and preparation / tutoring costs). It is possible that certain providers of such exams could be persuaded to offer discounted rates for international programs serving refugees.
It is important to think creatively about developing alternative pathways for students who are prevented from accessing high quality accredited programs due to a lack of proof of secondary school certification or completion of the final examination. The approach to addressing this should be two-fold: 1) programs should be developed to support students to get alternative documentation for access, such as international or external alternative certification tests or courses that support students in re-taking national secondary school examinations; 2) when possible, universities should review and adjust policies around proof of secondary school completion to ensure that access is improved.