BIF teamed with Southern New Hampshire University to design and test the lowest cost, highest quality degree program. Using BIF’s human-centered design process, the team applied principles of design and rapid prototyping to develop a detailed conceptual prototype of College for America that test users could experience and critique.

Design Challenge

To create a conceptual prototype of the digital experience students would encounter in SNHU’s online self-paced, competency-driven associate degree.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) was designing a new learning model and platform, College for America, to deliver low cost, high quality education for 21st century students who were previously marginalized by traditional higher education. Using a competency-based approach – where students are credentialed according to how they demonstrate the knowledge and capabilities required to meet an established skill set – as an organizing principle for programs of study, this disruptive model sought to end traditional higher education’s monopoly on delivery while outperforming it on measurable learning achievement. SNHU started by offering associate degree options to students in an online, self-paced, competency-driven environment. SNHU commissioned BIF to create a conceptual prototype of the digital experience students encounter, and to test this prototype with users.


The project included three main phases over the course of 6 months – Initial Concepting, User Testing, and Rapid Prototyping to reach a Final Recommended Concept Prototype. This process included a design brief outlining the challenge, student archetypes that fueled the concept model, three rapid prototyping sessions and a user test summary, and a clickable concept prototype for the College for America platform.

Impact Statement

SHNU used our insights and concept prototype as the foundation to transition into platform design and development. In December 2013, College for America graduated its first class. In May 2014, a regional accreditor greenlighted SNHU’s effort to offer a $10,000 bachelor’s degree through College for America – the first of its kind in the United States.