Meet critical needs as students approach the first post-COVID academic year
By Ted Blashak, Regional Vice President at Acadeum | Former Vice Provost of Online, Graduate, and Adult Programs at St. Thomas University, Miami, Florida (2019-2021)
During my time at St. Thomas University, my colleagues and I kept a close eye on how classes were building, keeping the needs of our students front and center, and remaining aware of commitments to meet budgets and demonstrate growth. This fall, colleges across the country will turn their attention to this delicate balance: focusing on both the economics of running an online program and the needs of students, while also thinking about how their programs and students can recover from the significant set-backs imposed by recent pandemic-induced enrollment declines.
As a Regional Vice President at Acadeum, I spend the majority of my time speaking with provosts and campus leaders: Lately, I’m hearing excitement and optimism about the return to a more “normal” academic year. Many schools didn’t grow last year; and almost all witnessed unimaginable obstacles to the student experience.
While the pandemic brought challenges, and institutions are still facing a host of unknowns, this year also created opportunities for innovation. In my recent conversations with campus leaders, I’ve been inspired by the creative brainstorming in action to start “building back,” and meeting students where they are.
Based on these discussions and trends we’re seeing across the industry, I’ve outlined four critical issues facing schools and how collaboration through online course sharing partnerships can help:
1. Course Sharing to Help Recover Stop Outs and Drop-Outs
A May 2021 survey of college and university presidents asked them to rank what they perceived as the “most pressing issues facing their institutions” in a post COVID-19 world. 73% of respondents cited the mental health of students.
Last year, with the pressures of the pandemic and stressors of health and home life, many students couldn’t focus on their role as learners. Students reported feeling unmotivated and distracted, facing new responsibilities —and many fell behind.
For students who stopped out or dropped out during the challenges of the pandemic, offering flexible, convenient online courses through course sharing to help them find on-ramps back to campus can be the missing piece to get them re-enrolled. Try recommending that they retake a class where they struggled, or get them back on track with the requirements for their major.
Dr. Bryan Boatright, Registrar at University of Mount Union, recalls seeing how course sharing gave students the second chance they needed: “As the pandemic hit [course sharing] became essential for us: that fall, we had students who were literally retaking courses that they had failed in the spring.”
2. Opportunities for Budget Recovery with Course Sharing
Many schools are trying to restore operating budgets. In the college and university president survey on pressing campus issues, 53% were focused on driving enrollment and 32% on long-term financial viability.
“What it’s all about for us is student success, and student success leads to tuition revenue and higher retention,” said Dr. Scott Sheffield, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Brevard College. “We’ve had students on probation and suspension that have taken courses through Acadeum [during Fall or Winter term]. That means they come back for a whole year of tuition.”
Whether you’re filling open seats in classes, by offering them to partner institutions, or winning back students and recovering revenue, course sharing can be a great way to open up opportunities for institutional growth.
3. Eliminate Roadblocks to Retain Students Struggling with the Transition
Sophomores are the most at-risk student population returning to campus—and this year’s sophomores are recovering from a freshman year unlike any in recent memory. International students, in particular, were hit hard last year, due to policies that restricted their ability to return to their studies in the US. Providing access to online courses to help these students catch-up on their studies, take necessary prerequisites, or boost their GPA can offer the support they need to progress.
Student support can mean everything from student services and counseling services to the flexibility to complete or retake needed courses. The bottom line is: schools want to be there for students with the appropriate tools and solutions at the moment when students are struggling. “We need to assess what those learners need, how they need it, and stand ready to respond,” said Ereka R. Williams, associate provost at Winston-Salem State University on Inside Higher Ed’s podcast “The Key.”
“We opened up some flexibility in our scheduling process, allowing students to find other options for courses,” said Stephen Svoboda of Heidelberg University, who cites course sharing as a way to provide opportunities for students to overcome roadblocks and stay on track.
4. Find the Solution Your Campus Needs the Most
A big part of strategic planning with our campus partners is finding the course sharing approaches that best align to an institution’s goals and student needs. This is where course sharing can be a bit like “choose your own adventure,” mapping solutions to the problems you want to solve.
Consider the student population at Catawba College: “Many of our students are non-traditional students,” said Holly Sawyers, Interim Director of Online Learning. “These are working adults, often with a family to support. They need flexibility. With online courses on the Acadeum network, we’re able to help students with a flexible pathway to graduation and remain on target with their goals.”
Jamila Lyn at Benedict College, who saw 5 students graduate this past spring as a result of course sharing, has her eye on diversity and equity strategies for the long term, partnering with HBCUs and other network teaching institutions. As partner schools open seats to visiting learners, course sharing has enormous potential to build “truly equitable learning communities, by extending opportunities for students to engage Black faculty, and faculty with heightened awareness of culturally responsive education, to be exposed to diverse content areas,” Lyn said.
Course sharing can offer flexible, quality solutions that benefit everyone on campus–and you can be up and running in a matter of weeks. But it’s not just about the process of course sharing that’s valuable; the relationships you build with partner institutions can make it easier to navigate the territory post-pandemic and open up opportunities for success for years to come.
What’s top-of-mind for you as your campus kicks off the new academic year? Share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org