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ASU, Instructure Partner to Expand College Access for Women

An initiative through Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management is trying to make higher education more accessible to women and girls around the globe via the Canvas online learning platform.

Busy young Indian woman wearing headphones working on laptop, looking at screen, making video call, engaged in conference, focused student listening to lecture, learning language online
A partnership between Arizona State University and the ed-tech company Instructure aims to make business education accessible to women and girls in underserved regions of the world, with the goal of enrolling over 100 million through the Canvas online learning platform by 2030.

The Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, which offers free online courses in about 40 languages, launched last year through the help of a $25 million donation to ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. Melissa Loble, Instructure’s chief customer experience officer, told Government Technology this week that the program has enrolled a little over 25,000 learners, with Kenya being the top enrolled geolocation, followed by the U.S., Ecuador, Uganda and China.

“We’re trying to bring these courses where women and girls typically don’t finish their education,” she said. “There are places in rural Africa where women and girls don’t typically have opportunities to contribute back to their communities beyond their families, or opportunities to even earn money, and they have great ideas for businesses and entrepreneurship. … That’s where this started, was with a focus on places where women and girls don’t have the same access to education or opportunities for education as they do in many first-world countries.”

According to Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, the goal of the initiative is to help women across the globe attain skills and college degrees necessary to compete in an increasingly digitized economy.

“Through the Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, we empower all individuals, especially women, to gain access to a world-class education at absolutely no cost. I think of my mother’s experience who, together with me as refugees with English as our fourth language, started our small startup enterprise when I was just 13 years old. It would have been transformative for her to have had access to the mindsets and skill sets provided by this initiative,” Khagram wrote in an email. “Through the 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, Thunderbird is committed to giving people across the globe the tools to achieve their full potential.”

Loble added that the initiative’s online courses have three pathways for learners depending on their education levels: foundational courses for any level, intermediate courses for advanced high school learners to current undergraduates, and advanced courses for advanced undergraduates and above. She said Instructure and ASU are working to get word out about the program and partner with governments to increase registration moving forward.

“We’re thinking about how to educate the world and expand access to that,” she said. “Anyone can get to the courses [online] and take them, but we’re trying to spread the word.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.