Smart Track to Success: Retaining Adult Learners in Online Education

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

The Pennsylvania State University -- World Campus Smart Track to Success program supports adult learners in their academic journey. Smart Track to Success focuses on retention, support, and community by providing scholarships, academic support, and career and financial planning. Students connect with academic coaches who provide  support throughout the semester. 

Sponsored By


Michelle Wiley works at The Pennsylvania State University – World Campus as the Assistant Director for Academic and Enrollment Support Services, managing the Academic Support Center. In her sixth year at Penn State, she oversees the development and coordination of academic support programming for more than 20,000 online learners. She orchestrates the resources of multiple departments to deliver multi-modal online supports for students. She holds a Master’s in Education from Buffalo State College and worked in Middle Level education for thirteen years.

Additional Authors

Dr. Adams serves as the director of student affairs at Penn State’s World Campus. She has been working in higher education for 10 years, primarily with online and adult learners and in her current role, supervises a team of student affairs professionals that provide career counseling, student conduct and advocacy, mental health, student clubs and organization and student leadership programming support to the over 20,000 Penn Staters that are studying online. She earned her bachelors & Maters degrees in Sociology from Truman State University and DePaul University, respectively and her PhD. from Saint Louis University.

Extended Abstract

Smart Track to Success: Retaining Adult Learners in Online Education 

The Pennsylvania State University -- World Campus Smart Track to Success program supports new adult learners in their academic journey to degree attainment. Smart Track to Success focuses on retention, support, and community by providing financial assistance, academic support, technology training, and career and financial planning. Students enrolled in the program also connect with academic coaches who provide individualized, timely support throughout the semester. 

Goals of the Smart Track to Success program include: 

  • Increase retention of first-time online adult students 

  • Provide students with tools and resources to improve their likelihood of success at Penn State World Campus 

  • Build a community of online learners who encourage and support each other  

Smart Track to Success is a free, non-credit online program offered to invited World Campus students. The program provides students with a $1,500 scholarship over two consecutive semesters and targets the following student populations: 

  • First-generation  

  • Pell-eligible 

  • Underrepresented groups 

  • Adult learners with no prior college credit 

  • Students with less than 18 credits 

  • International students 

Throughout the first semester, students concentrate on: 

  • organization and time management 

  • study habits 

  • note-taking and test preparation 

  • college-level writing 

  • financial literacy and academic progress 

In the second semester, students: 

  • articulate their personal values, strengths, and areas for improvement 

  • identify potential career paths and professional interests  

  • embrace the values of diversity and inclusion 

  • engage in the Penn State experience 

Students in the Smart Track to Success program also work closely with a Navigation Coach provided by Inside Track. Navigation coaches increase persistence and retention, encourage student usage of support resources, and enhance the student experience by providing personalized coaching tailored to students' unique needs via multiple channels. Navigation coaches help students in Smart Track to manage their busy lives and overcome the challenges that many students face as they start or return to school.   

In this presentation we will: 

  • Discuss program development and buy-in from key stakeholders 

  • Provide details on program requirements, course selection, and managing student expectations     

  • Share course content from both semesters 

  • Demonstrate how the course works in CANVAS 

  • Present student evaluations of the program  

  • Relate data and assessment information to retention and academic-based outcomes