Think of higher education as a straight line-a typical way from high school to university to work. But for so many college students, what actually happened was much messier and sporadic.

this is life. Research can be interrupted by important life events, such as the birth of a child or a parent’s illness. Other workers may not go directly to university, but may receive some training on the job, or may pass a short-term plan somewhere along the line. Maybe people will return to campus or online courses, or they may find other ways to get the learning they need.

This week our podcast guest has been exploring what he calls “underground education”-experimental projects and “hidden certificates” that people get are not traditional university straight lines.

This guest is Peter Smith. As the founder of an experimental university, Vermont Community College, he has been advocating a new model of adult learning for more than 50 years. Smith also held political positions, including serving as Lieutenant Governor of Vermont and later as a member of the U.S. Congress of the state.

Although he feels he knows data about education policy, he wants to better understand the life experiences of adult learners. Therefore, in the past two years, he has conducted extensive interviews with 20 students who are not suitable for the traditional education system.

He said this research surprised him and changed him.

He said: “I know these data in my mind, but I don’t know how race, gender, sexual orientation, income play a disproportionately negative role in determining who gets access. Opportunities are obtained through traditional methods.”

The result is his latest book, “Stories from the Educational Underground: The New Frontier of Learning and Work. ”

The stories in his book show gritty people overcoming obstacles, and it may be easy to describe them as fulfilling the American myth of self-reliance.As ordinary listeners know, we have been exploring We are making a podcast series called BootstrapsBut Smith said that he is actually refuting this myth, because a recurring theme is that these hard-working people were also helped at critical moments or found experimental projects that made their hard work possible. Come opportunity.

“They are the heroes in tragic stories, where millions of others cannot find their way to opportunity,” he wrote in the book’s conclusion and described the students who spoke with him. “As a society, we need these stories to become mainstream reality, not exceptions to the rules. In respecting and validating personal learning and work experience, we need these’underground stories’ to become part of the public awareness.”

EdSurge sat down with Smith at the ASU GSV meeting in San Diego last week.

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