Radical Justice: Dr. Peter Osborn on CU's Efforts in Accessible Education

By Dennis Graham on November 6, 2018

"At Cornerstone, we don't just provide education; we actively remove barriers that keep others from experiencing that education."

Within two minutes of sitting down with Dr. Peter Osborn, vice president for adult learning, you gain a palpable sense of his passion for accessible education.

And with the forthcoming launch of a new program partnership with Mel Trotter Ministries, Cornerstone is advancing access to education in ways the university has never championed before.

Cornerstone and Mel Trotter made their partnership official in January of 2018, signing an agreement to grant Mel Trotter friends onsite access to the PGS associate degree in human services. Now, CU has begun recruiting the program's first cohort: seeking out former and current Mel Trotter friends who are interested in continuing their education.

"It's a big endeavor with a lot of considerations," explains Dr. Osborn. "Some candidates have been out of the classroom for five years, but for others it could have been fifteen or twenty. There's an intimidation factor to starting a degree after being out of the classroom for so long."

Yet as Dr. Osborn intentionally explored options with Mel Trotter President and CEO Dennis Van Kampen, who is himself a PGS graduate, both recognized the role education plays in bringing hope, upward mobility and justice to those who have experienced seasons of homelessness or addiction.

"We have concrete data telling us education at the level of an associate and bachelor's degree correlates with more job opportunity and higher earning potential," says Dr. Osborn.

When asked about the specific benefit of the human services degree, Dr. Osborn cited multiple developmental gains for each graduate, including discipline, critical thinking, communication and reasoning.

"All of those skills transfer to a future job and translate to future employee-competency and adaptability when it comes to time management, respect, community and the other soft skills employers value."

But what makes this initiative so unique is the way in which Mel Trotter and Cornerstone have worked to ensure access to this degree is just and inclusive. Because here is the thing about justice—it calls us to radical and creative Jesus-thinking, which often redefines the rules. In this instance, that means systematically removing the education barriers that hamper people who have undergone the kind of life transitions experienced by many of the Mel Trotter friends:

  1. Cost
    In this partnership, CU and Mel Trotter have worked to significantly discount tuition for the human services degree, encouraging a sense of dignity and buy-in for students without positioning higher education beyond their financial reach. In addition, all Mel Trotter friends will have their PGS application fees waived.

  2. Travel
    Because many Mel Trotter friends struggle with access to consistent transportation, CU will bring the human services curriculum right to the Mel Trotter facilities, teaching courses one at a time in an accelerated format.

  3. Technology
    With online learning serving as a key component in PGS learning, Mel Trotter has ensured their computer lab is available for all students' use throughout the program.

  4. Academic Support
    CU and Mel Trotter have a commitment to support the long-term success of every student participating in this program, which is why courses will be delivered one at a time in manageable amounts and professors will make themselves directly available to Mel Trotter students for assistance outside of lectures.

  5. Isolation
    Finally, the cohort model of learning allows students to support and encourage one another as they engage each course together. This is a model employed in other PGS degrees and creates a sense of connection and, often, perseverance for students.

Looking ahead, Dr. Osborn has a number of ideas for ensuring success, sustainability and growth within the program. To that end, CU will be working hard in the coming years to support students through strong graduation rates, retention, cohort diversity, secured employment and overall thriving and degree satisfaction. For now, he looks at the human services degree with anticipation and gratitude:

"As a Christ-centered university, CU looks to Jesus Christ as the foundation for what service is. With that as our model, we root how we think about service, model it and teach it in a biblical understanding of human value—that we are created in the image of God. It isn't just a legal requirement to treat people with respect; it's also a faith response of serving other image bearers of God."

Ultimately, that's what justice, accessible education and Cornerstone University are all about.