Creating a Pipeline for Academic Success
Concurrent Session 3
This session explores how WPI Online develops gap/refresher and “ramp-up” pathways for graduate students, in partnership with academic departments in order to help adult online learners succeed. Program-specific examples will be highlighted, along with key lessons learned in the process and these innovations’ impact on retention.
Imagine: You graduated college in 2002 with your Bachelor’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering. You had a great GPA from a prestigious university. 15 years later, you have a family and a solid career, but you’re at a standstill; you need a graduate degree to elevate your career. You find the perfect program for you and get accepted. But the first course is hard; your math skills aren’t what they used to be, and you struggle to keep up with your peers while juggling a family and a full-time job. Before the end of the course, you drop out, discouraged and right where you were before you started.
Stories like this one used to be pretty common in WPI Online’s programs, an education solution tailored to working professionals in STEM fields. As a result, WPI needed to find a way to refresh the skills of new students quickly and with minimal additional financial impact, while also improving retention and widening the pipeline for prospective students who had been out of the academic game for years. This obstacle was all the more complicated by not having online undergraduate courses at WPI, nor the highly technical tutoring it would take to bring applicants up to speed.
To meet this challenge, WPI Online worked closely with academic departments to build two pathways forward: refresher courses and graduate-level “ramp-up” courses. Eight total refresher courses are now offered 100% online, at 1/3 of the cost of tuition. Online modules allow students to enter and progress at their own pace and regain skills necessary to succeed in their graduate program, as outlined by an academic advisor. Similarly, academic departments developed the graduate-level ramp-up courses, which are taken at the beginning of a program to ensure a smooth and successful path forward. Best of all, these “ramp-up” courses satisfy program requirements and thus do not require additional credits or tuition. Departments identify a student’s need for these courses using one of two skills-based pre-tests that identify gaps in learning.
These improvements led to even greater cross-functional collaboration at WPI Online. The team had to find ways to easily share information across multiple platforms, from recruiters to student success team members, to ensure student needs were properly identified and met—all while tracking a growing number of prospective and current students.
This session explores how WPI Online develops pathways forward in partnership with academic departments in order to help adult online learners succeed. Program-specific examples will be highlighted, along with key lessons learned in the process and these innovations’ impact on retention. Presenters will survey session participants to learn what methods they are using to onboard students, with time allotted to share and discuss these methods and ask any questions they might have. The presentation will be available electronically and in hard copy for participants.