Creating Vibrant Online Student Support Services
Concurrent Session 8
The Online Student Support Scorecard assists postsecondary institutions in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the services available for online students. By implementing the scorecard evaluation process, the student services units across the institution began to work together to provide comprehensive services for online students.
Description: Engaging students through student services is valuable when considering quality of distance education. Through the student services, students should be able to access the equivalent support services that allow them to be successful academically and reduce the feeling of isolation. As post-secondary institutions explore ways to differentiate their brand and to address how to support students outside of their geographic area or in other states, the services required for students may need to be delivered in alternative ways. More students are also beginning their academic career 100% online. Institutions are developing an interest in how to extend the campus experiences to the online students. By building connections with the institution through online services, students begin to feel as if they belong to the larger student population. The origin of the Online Student Support Scorecard was in the 2025 Online Education Strategic Plan developed by the Florida State University System through the support of the Innovation and Online Committee at the Florida Broad of Governors. That plan identified three areas of emphasis to increase online courses and degrees in the state. As the online presence grew, the state was interested in address three areas: (a) quality, (b) affordability, and (c) access. To improve the quality of distance learning, two of the tactics where included to promote high quality student support services. Other quality tactics addressed the quality of course development and availability of professional development. The first tactic for student support was to develop a scorecard to measure the presence and quality of online student support services. The second tactic was to provide best strategies in providing support for online students. With the Online Education Plan as the springboard, the universities and colleges in Florida combined resources to develop the scorecard. Within the workgroup were experts from student support service units across Florida. The Scorecard is a result of the work of this group. The Scorecard is usefully in several different ways. The Scorecard allows the institution to self-evaluate the availability and the quality of the services provide to the online students. The institutions are utilizing the data provided by the Scorecard to improve their services in various ways. The Florida University System also used the overall results to explore possible ways to combined statewide services. Finally, the Scorecard was helpful for regional accrediting reviews as a demonstration of the institution self-evaluating and documentation of improvement over time. Learning outcome: • Participants will use the scorecard to determine the level of services for online students at their institution. • Participants will be able to use the scorecard to identify gaps in services provided for online students • Participants will interact with others in the session to gather ideas for how to improve student services at their institution. Activities • Brief description of the development process used in creating the scorecard • The activities of the workshop will walk the group through the life cycle of the student o Each phase of the life cycle will contain a case study for groups to evaluate and score o The participants will apply the skills they developed to connect current practices at their institution to the scorecard. o Groups will have an opportunity to share best strategies for providing support for the online students. Benefit: The participants will use the scorecard to evaluate their institution’s online student support availability. The self-evaluation will then be shared with others so ideas about how to provide online student services can be exchanged within the breakout groups. At the conclusion, of the interactions, the presenters will be available for question and answers. At the conclusion of the activities, the results of the statewide study will be presented for discussion. Method: Two different organizations within Florida administered this Scorecard. The Florida College System was the first to use the scorecard. The scorecard was sent to all the 27 public colleges in Florida. Of those institutions, 22 filled out the Excel spreadsheet with the self-evaluated ratings of the services available at their institutions. The scorecard with the guidebook and Excel spreadsheet was distributed to the Florida State University System as an official request from the Board of Governors to the 10 universities which offer distance learning courses and degrees. The 10 universities respond with their self-evaluation of the services offered on the Excel spreadsheet. Analysis Plan: The analyzed data compared the results of the colleges with the universities. The Within the scorecard were 11 categories with a total of 44 quality indicators within those categories. The indicators were scored with 2 points for exemplary level of service, 1 point for service availability, and 0 points for limited or no service. The points for the categories were totaled then compared to the total possible to determine a percentage score. The percentage score gives a broad understanding of the availability of the services across the two systems. The results were handled differently by the systems. The colleges used their Excel spreadsheets to develop improvement plans. The universities used a different approach in the distribution of the results. The universities could analyze their copy of the Excel spreadsheet. In addition, each of the universities received a detailed report with the university system average with comparison to the institution’s average for each of the categories. An additional layer of data was available with the average score across the university system and the institution’s score for the 44 quality indicators. The report also included a summary of areas with exceptional online services and those which required improvement.
Based upon the overall scores, the colleges scored lower across all categories. This can be explained by the amount of resources available to colleges versus the universities. The universities can collect distance learning fee ranging from 0 to $30 per credit hour versus the colleges which limited to 0 to $15 per credit by legislation. The colleges are more likely to not collect the full $15 per credit hour to maintain a lower overall cost per credit hour than the universities. Universities are more likely to have out-of-state students than the regionally situated colleges who draw in more local students. The lower scores do not indicate that the services are not available. The score of 1 indicates availability by telephone or email during the day. A score of 2 indicates exemplary services which though web conferencing, online chat, or offer extended hours. Universities may be more likely to experiment with these different approaches as compared to the colleges. Conclusion: The purpose for this project was the development of a scorecard to measure and quantify elements of quality within online student services in higher education. Quality is a perception that varies within industries, including that of higher education whose traditional indicators for quality are changing. Quality of a distance learning program is not necessarily limited to the development of courses or degrees. The availability of equivalent student support services is also important. The Scorecard can potentially fill a need in the identification and assessment of quality within online student services, provide a method for benchmarking current services and serve as a guide to improvement of online student support. The identification of quality online education programs satisfies a great need in our field and has been requested by many online education administrators as a tool for program improvement. The assessment of quality online education has never been more important as fierce competition from for-profit programs as well as many non-profits programs continues to increase and students all over the world are clicking to find a respectable degree program.