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Hidden Advantages of the Breakthrough Models Academy

Author: Dustin Hilt, Simmons College

While it isn’t hard to find plenty of background (here, here, and here, for example) on the Breakthrough Models Academy (BMA), it still wasn’t enough to prepare me for all of the benefits of the experience. As much as I enjoyed the official program, the resources and opportunities that have been available to me after it ended have been just as valuable. If you have already been accepted into BMA or plan on applying in the future, you can look forward to these “hidden advantages” at the conclusion of the program.

Build Relationships with Great People

This one might not seem like much of a surprise. You can network at any conference or professional development event, trading business cards with the person sitting next to you or catching a speaker for a few minutes after a session, right? BMA takes this to another level, providing substantial quality time to form relationships with innovators at other institutions through the weeklong residential program and model design program that follows it. In addition to learning a great deal from my team as we developed our project, Brighter Edge, we have been able to call on each other for advice on pressing issues at our institutions, such as the business model and technology needed to support an innovative program. Some of these issues are fairly new territory for higher education, and it is nice to know that I have a strong network in place when I need guidance from someone facing similar problems. Moving forward, I hope that NGLC will look for additional opportunities to strengthen and grow this network. Considering the number of BMA alumni that frequent the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference and the ELI Annual Meeting, these are both natural venues to provide participants a chance to reconnect.

Access Unique Opportunities Post-Academy

During the residential program in Cambridge in 2014, I had an opportunity to hear directly from individuals leading innovative programs across the country, such as the Flexible Option at the University of Wisconsin. I had no idea that those opportunities would continue (and get even better) well after the program ended. In recent months I have received invitations from NGLC to join webinars on topics like competency development, as well as consultancies designed to give small groups an inside look at personalization and connectedness at scale at Rio Salado College and the changing role of faculty in competency-based education at College for America.

As we think about a new program designed to improve access and lower costs for adult students at my institution, Simmons College, these resources have been invaluable. I am excited to see how NGLC builds on these initial opportunities, particularly whether they can provide an avenue to connect BMA with other efforts to encourage innovation, such as the Competency-Based Education Network or funding opportunities to support either the projects developed at BMA or other initiatives that alumni are working on at their institutions.

Join the NGLC Community

Technically, you don’t have to participate in BMA to access many of the other great resources available through EDUCAUSE and NGLC. However, it did help me discover all of the other work they do to support higher education innovators. As my institution approaches competency-based education, we have benefitted from their concept overview, program profiles, background on key issues, and more. Holly Morris, Director of Postsecondary Model Development and Adoption, has been a wonderful resource as we think through issues related to accreditation and technology. My experience with the team at NGLC, as well as the impressive network of higher education innovators at their disposal, is one of the key reasons that Simmons applied to join the 2015 Breakthrough Models Incubator (BMI), a related opportunity designed to provide focused guidance to institutions as they approach competency-based education. If I had not participated in BMA, I never would have known the full range of opportunities available to individuals and institutions seeking to leverage technology to provide options for the millions of individuals without a clear path to a college education.

Even without these extras, the Breakthrough Models Academy was a fantastic experience. Once you factor them in, the program should be an obvious choice for anyone interested in finding new ways to help make sure that more students can earn a degree.


As Program Analyst for Adult Education, Dustin is leading Simmons College's work on competency-based education. He also serves as a Head Agent for the Colby Fund Committee at Colby College and Chair of the Membership Committee for the Alumni Council at the Senator George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute. You can find him on Twitter at @dustinhilt.


One must have a program designed to improve access and lower costs to all students. And the one which can provide avenue to connect and encourage innovation.