There may be no shortcuts to a college education, but Indianapolis-based The College Network says it can offer some passing lanes for working people who want to add to their professional credentials.
The College Network, 3815 River Crossing Parkway, Suite 260, is a nationwide business that publishes educational materials for adult students who want to earn an undergraduate degree, graduate degree or professional certification in their current field. TCN is not a school and does not provide degrees itself, but it provides study materials with a particular emphasis on preparing students to take proficiency tests to meet some of the requirements for the degrees they want.
The company offers materials tailored to meet the specific requirements of various colleges and universities for their continuing education programs, including Indiana State University in Terre Haute.
"It's excellent material; the quality is very high," said Allen Varner, the director of continuing education at Indiana State.
These partnership programs at schools such as Indiana State allow students to use a mix of proficiency testing, written course work and online studies to meet all the requirements for a degree or a particular certification, potentially without ever stepping foot in a classroom.
The company's materials are designed to meet the standards of each partner school. The educational requirements and the determination whether a student has qualified for a particular degree is made by the college or professional certification body.
Beginnings in nursing
TCN was started in 1992. Bob Gallup, the company's chief marketing officer, said the company's initial emphasis was on providing continuing education materials for the nursing field, particularly licensed practical nurses who had a year or so of training but not an academic degree. The LPNs often felt at a dead end professionally because they could not take the exam for a registered nurse's license unless they at least had an associate's degree in nursing.
As a result, the company began marketing educational materials to help LPNs earn the necessary degree so they could try for their RN license.
The College Network soon realized RNs were increasingly interested in earning a full four-year bachelor's degree in nursing, Gallup said. Having a bachelor's degree would qualify them for management positions or allow them to try for certification in one of the increasing number of nursing specializations. TCN started publishing study materials to allow nurses to prepare for the many qualifying exams themselves.
For about 10 years, TCN focused its efforts in continuing education materials for nurses.
"Then, about two or three years ago, we woke up and realized there was a whole new world out there," Gallup said. "Knowledge is power."
The company could see there was a huge demand for continuing education in the business world and started developing educational materials for many fields.
Today, TCN has more than 30 programs aimed toward supporting adult students in the business fields in addition to six nursing programs.
Besides Indiana State, TCN has partnerships with Bellevue University in Nebraska, Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, Regis University in Denver, Vincennes University in Indiana, the University of Southern California, and Boston University.
Gallup declined to provide financial data, but said 85,000 people have participated in TCN programs since 1992.
Besides its headquarters in Indianapolis, The College Network has regional officers in Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and Tampa. Overall, the company employs 325 people, including independent contractors.
Gallup said the company tries to make sure its educational materials and the continuing education partnerships it has with various colleges cater as much as possible to the special needs of working professionals. Many of its materials are aimed at helping adult students take proficiency exams that allow them to test out of some of their general-education and entry-level courses.
Indianapolis resident Kimberly S. Shacke, 38, might be a typical customer. Shacke is an LPN at the Indianapolis University Medical Center. Early this spring, she decided to try for her RN certification, so she started a self-study program using materials from TCN. So far, she's pleased with what she's seen.
"I find it very easy to use," she said. The materials seem to be effective and complete, she noted
TCN has its own academic advisers, both online and via telephone, to answer student questions and provide advice for people undertaking their own self-guided educational programs.
These advisers, operating out of the company's Indianapolis and Las Vegas offices, are available 15 hours a day Monday through Friday, Gallup said.
TCN's near-future goal is to expand the amount of educational materials it offers and have them cover a wider range of professions. Education and health care specialties are two areas that are particularly earmarked. Other fields include project management, information technology, engineering and the hospitality industry.
Other challenges include making sure the company's educational materials meet the needs of its customers.
"We're always having to update our material," Gallup said.
TCN also wants to expand the number of schools with which it can create continuing-education partnerships.
Varner said the kind of "blended" education programs Indiana State can offer with TCN materials is a real benefit for adult students. By testing some courses and taking others online, working professionals can fit programs around their careers.
"It allows them to set their own pace," he said.
Varner added these kinds of programs have been around long enough to convince colleges and businesses they can be as effective as many traditional classroom programs.