Removing barriers to completion for online students

January 27, 2020
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Online and Distance Learning
  • AM2020 Distinct Populations
Student in headphones with pen in hand looking at laptop

Serving online students is not the same as serving traditional students. A unique approach is required. To ensure non-traditional students are successful,  California Baptist University's Online Division* is incorporating proven practices, including  enrolling students two years out, tracking academic success and failure, mitigating barriers to completion, and utilizing technology to increase operational efficiencies and service to students.

Here's more information about two of these strategies:

Enrolling two years out. At CBU, online students are automatically registered for their required classes for two years -- the typical length of their degree program, given that many students are transfers, graduate, or doctoral students. 
“We let them know what they’re registered for, major classes at least, and they can make changes if needed through their advisor and add gen ed after that,” Simpson said. In this system, the Registrar is the backbone to the whole process, communicating through the adviser to the student, and setting course schedules well in advance so they’re available on this timeline. It’s significantly impacted course scheduling and coordination with academic departments, helping the registrar know well ahead of time what courses are under-enrolled, where sections need to be added, etc.
“Uniquely, we have a dedicated academic unit that oversees all courses for the online division -- an actual role in the registrar’s office that oversees course scheduling,” Simpson said. “It’s not necessarily the departments’ individual academic department determining the schedule, but the registrar office.” 
Academic tracking. According to Simpson, academic tracking of online students is extremely helpful in helping students succeed. CBU uses Blackboard learning management system as their online “campus.”
“We utilize all the data we collect about students, such as when they log in, watch videos, submit assignments, and more,” Simpson said. “All the grading is done through Blackboard as well, and we can track how much students engage and how successful they are, which means we can identify pretty early on -- within the first few weeks of the semester -- when students are struggling.” 
The registrar’s office provides these data and reports to advisors so they can proactively reach out to students and keep them engaged and progressing. 
The self-serve paradox
“Over the course of the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been a push to students self-serving everything: their own registration, degree plan, and going to every office to make sure everything’s in order,” said Rich Simpson, University Registrar, California Baptist University (CBU). “The responsibility has really been put on the student.”
Online students, however, have different needs and expectations, and seem to thrive when given a clear framework and path to completion.
“It’s counterintuitive, especially when online students are typically working adult students, but they succeed when we’re really hand-holding them,” Simpson said. “They don’t have the time to go to all of these offices, figure all this stuff out. So we offer them one person, an advisor, to go to for everything, to get all questions answered and any other business done.”
Learn more
Simpson will bring ideas about how to serve online students to the Annual Meeting, April 4-7 in New Orleans.
“We’ll share what we’ve implemented in our office to increase efficiencies and create a better experience for students,” Simpson said. “We’ll help people understand how to mitigate some barriers to enrollment and completion, and hopefully they can come out of the session and the conference with ideas about how to improve the online student experience at their institutions.”

Learn about AACRAO 2020 sessions focused on serving distinct populations, such as online students, veterans, transgender students and more.

* CBU’s student population is approximately 11,000. Their online division serves about 5,000 students (approximately 2,500 of whom are fully online). 


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