Supporting Traditional Students in a Non-Traditional Program
Concurrent Session 2
To support students in an innovative University of Florida hybrid admissions program, where admitted students complete their lower division requirements online using the UF Online infrastructure, UF Online has developed innovative programming to create opportunities for a traditional college experience in an online learning environment.
In the spring term of 2015, University of Florida’s Enrollment Management division announced a new admissions program designed to increase enrollment of qualified freshman applicants to the University of Florida. Utilizing the already existing UF Online infrastructure (fully online undergraduate degrees from UF), this new program was first offered to a group of applicants in the incoming class of 2019.
The program, Pathways to Campus Enrollment (PaCE), has grown rapidly since it was first launched and has provided our UF Online team many opportunities to evaluate and improve our program, not just for PaCE students, but for all of our UF Online population. In addition to the numerous opportunities presented by this new cohort, UF Online faced unforeseen challenges regarding how to cater our student support services, originally developed with non-traditional students in mind, for a traditional college student population. UF Online’s ability to adapt to this population and implement programming and resources for these students also improved the experience for the whole UF Online population.
Without other programs like it on which to lean, UF Online was tasked with responding to, anticipating, and accommodating this new population of students while navigating previously uncharted policy territory. The students accepted into this program applied to the traditional campus and did not intend to complete their lower division coursework in a fully online learning environment. A large percentage of each incoming class has chosen to live in Gainesville beginning with their first fall term, to take advantage of the opportunities available to local residents.
Since this program is unlike any other, it is critical that UF Online reach out directly to newly admitted students to discuss how the program works. To accomplish this, UF Online and campus partners facilitated online chat information sessions, where we provided information about the PaCE program and answered questions from prospective students and family members. In addition to these chats, we led PaCE specific information sessions at Florida Days, an open house event for all newly admitted University of Florida students. This past year, we utilized the University of Florida’s Coral Gables office to meet in person with newly admitted PaCE students and families in the South Florida area. By providing both in person and virtual information session options to this population, we have expanded access to information, and the success of these events has created additional opportunities to utilize these programs for the greater UF Online population.
In response to their desire for a traditional college experience, we quickly identified, designed, and implemented new initiatives and policies to better enhance the experience and, ultimately, the academic success of our PaCE students. In the first year of the PaCE program, students completed an online orientation without any on campus components. After the first year, in collaboration with the Dean of Students Office, we created a hybrid orientation program by combining our existing UF Online orientation with a modified version of our residential orientation. PaCE students for the past two years, and for future cohorts, are now required to complete both an online orientation as well as a one-day in-person orientation. This past year, 98% of students who attended the on campus orientation enrolled at the University of Florida, demonstrating the value of an on campus orientation experience for this population. We also created the ability for students to customize their campus experience with an optional fee package that allows them the same access to student funded campus amenities. These are the same fees that are required for residential students, but are not required of UF Online students.
The PaCE population enrolls in UF Online course sections, which mirror our residential classes in content, learning outcomes, and rigor. Students are enrolled alongside other UF Online students from all over the country and world, and therefore benefit from the contributions of their diverse classmates, all while being able to participate in traditional college activities. They also benefit from the flexibility of an online learning environment, and many have taken great advantage of said flexibility to become some of the most involved students at the University of Florida.
While PaCE students, like UF Online students, are encouraged to get involved in student organizations across campus, the first cohort of PaCE students quickly identified a need for a PaCE specific student organization, and UF Online followed suit to support this organization by providing resources and a faculty advisor. The PaCE student association, now in its third year, serves to help integrate students, both local and out of the area, to the social aspects of the University, and has helped foster connections between students in the program. For each meeting, they invite a different campus resource or office to speak with the group about the services and opportunities that office provides. By collaborating with other campus offices, our campus partners are better informed about the program, and many of our PaCE students have been selected for some of the most prestigious opportunities on campus as a result. The PaCE program has helped students distinguish themselves from other applicants and, by selecting PaCE students to join, campus organizations are becoming more familiar with and better able to serve PaCE students and the UF Online population as a whole.
To build relationships between UF Online and PaCE students, as well as UF faculty and staff, the UF Online team developed the UF Online Plaza. The UF Online Plaza is a virtual community that connects students, faculty, and staff, allowing them to engage in groups based on major, geographic location, interests, or create a group of their own choosing. Online initiatives like the Plaza are shaping the University of Florida as a whole, as these initiatives are facilitating connections between online students and on campus opportunities. As a result of these connections, campus partners across the University of Florida are regularly reaching out to UF Online to invite local and out of area students to participate in their programs. Campus departments are increasingly recognizing the value and importance of our online student population, both PaCE and UF Online, and the diverse opinions they bring to the UF community.
Due to the unique and unexpected challenges resulting from this program’s implementation, UF Online has had the opportunity to work with partners across campus and increase student support. The innovations developed for PaCE have allowed us to improve the experience for both UF Online and PaCE students, and has helped propel the further understanding of the needs of the online student at the university level. This program has brought online education to the forefront of many university wide conversations. The University of Florida is already a national leader in higher education as a top 10 public institution, and this program has furthered cemented our standing as a leader in the innovative industry of online education.