Data provided by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which implements refugee assistance programs in 51 countries with the help of over 1,400 volunteers, estimated that the average stay in a refugee community is 18 years. This estimate motivated university faculty to fill a growing need for tertiary education in refugee communities.
Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) was formed in 2009 with the goal of creating a "sustainable, scaleable, and transferable" model to deliver tertiary education to those at the margins of our societies. The model seeks to combine the growing expertise in online delivery techniques with the expertise of JRS in supporting refugee communities in camp and urban settings. It offers a fully accredited online 45 credit Diploma in Liberal Studies and a portfolio of Community Service Learning tracks (CSLT) delivered locally. Free at the point of delivery, JC:HEM is taught by online volunteer faculty from around the world supported by site-based staff employed by its implementing partner, the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Its tertiary education programs were launched in 2010. JC:HEM currently operates three learning centers in three countries, mobilizing volunteer faculty from around the world via online coursework and community service-based learning. JC:HEM admits a cohort of 90 students each academic year, and has plans to expand to at least 10 sites with a stable student population of more than 1,000 students.
JC:HEM's academic program has two elements:
- A portfolio of Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLT): CLSTs are delivered face-to-face and are designed to meet specific needs in the community. CLST are delivered over 16 weeks and include disciplines such as counseling, business, entrepreneurship, health and English as a learned language. CSLTs are developed in collaboration with on-site facilitators and International Faculty input.
- A Diploma in Liberal Studies: The Diploma is delivered online via digital file sharing platforms. The Diploma is accredited by Regis Universiy in Denver, Colorado and comprises a total of 45 US credits (15, 8 week courses, studied over three years). The Diploma has two elements: a compulsory 10 course foundation which includes courses in Philosophy, World Religions, Leadership etc, and an elective 5 course concentration. Concentrations are currently offered in Education and Business. All courses are donated by participating institutions and taught by volunteer faculty from around the world. To date, more than 130 faculty have taught Diploma courses.
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CEI approaches in action
As refugees, the beneficiaries of JC:HEM's programming have little to no income, belongings, and/or physical assets. Though they also live in non-camp, urban settings, their socioeconomic mobility is limited by their lack of access to tertiary education.
Each year, JC:HEM is forced to cap its number of accepted students at 30 per learning site to maintain low faculty:student ratios and high quality of lesson delivery. However, these 30 students are selected from a much larger pool of applicants who undergo a testing and essay-writing application process. The applicants gain valuable experience in self-expression and articulation of learning goals.
Following feasibility studies between September 2009 and March 2010, JC:HEM was formally launched in April 2010. In September 2010 it recruited its first students to a portfolio of Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLTs) and the online Diploma.
JC:HEM was simultaneously launched at three sites: Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and the city of Aleppo in Syria. Annual recruitment is around 90 Diploma students and more than 100 CSLT students. Forced to relocate from Syria to Amman, Jordan in 2012, JC:HEM currently has student population of around 300 students.
JC:HEM originally attracted 65 volunteer faculty from 28 Jesuit universities in the United States. It has since expanded this network to more than 130 academics from institutions around the world. International faculty primarily teach the 20 courses offered through the Diploma and assist in the development and delivery of CSLTs. JC:HEM will graduate its first cohort of students at Dzaleka and Kakuma in September 2013. Discussion are ongoing with local institutions of higher education to enable continued study through articulation agreements.
This program will complete its pilot phase in August 2014. The principal goal of the pilot is the development of a scalable, sustainable and transferrable model.
Funding is currently being sought to enable significant expansion during its second five-year phase. Current plans are to expand to at least 10 sites with a stable student population of more than 1,000 students. Diploma and CSLT offerings will be supplemented by accredited developmental programs for faculty and on-site staff. JC:HEM will seek to be self-sufficient by the end of its second phase while retaining the principle of offering higher education, free at the point of delivery, to those at the margins.
JC:HEM is constantly seeking to expand its pool of international faculty and welcomes inquiries from interested individuals and institutions both from within the global Jesuit community and beyond.
Monitoring & Evaluation
JC:HEM works in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service to identify tertiary education needs in refugee communities. While JC:HEM monitors the academic performance of its learners through grades earned, attendance, engagement, and assignment completion etc, the Jesuit Refugee Service monitors qualitative and qualitative data within the refugee community, such as reductions in instances of violence among learners, or clients' self-understanding and openness to new experiences.
JC:HEM asks: "What is the purpose of tertiary education?" and understands that the answers are complex and interdependent. By measuring multiple outcomes: academic performance, monetary returns on education in the forms of employment or earnings, changes in students' mindsets and life goals, changes in learners' contributions to their communities, learners' leadership skills and family conduct, among others, JC:HEM believes it can offer the highest-quality tertiary education to its program participants.