WGU Academy—A New Paradigm for Academic Readiness
The college readiness gap—the difference between the skills students have versus the skills needed to succeed in college—is of increasing concern, and COVID-19 is making the gap even more problematic. As part of its mission to expand access to higher ed, Western Governors University has created WGU Academy, an online academic readiness initiative to develop resilient learners regardless of the type of institution they attend.
The Academy launched in the spring of 2019 and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It has already enrolled over 10,000 students and is designed to serve hundreds of thousands more. In addition to serving future WGU students, pilot initiatives are underway with community colleges, high schools, community groups, and employers as Academy explores new ways to support student success.
Mindset Matters Most: Developing Resiliency for Academic and Career Success
College can be daunting for many students, but it should not be a dead end. Prior to the pandemic, traditional remediation approaches too often fell short even though students and institutions invest approximately $7 billion annually on remedial education. Two-thirds of community college students take at least one developmental course, and among those less than 10% of two-year students graduate within three years. The results are not much better for students in remedial programs who attend four-year institutions.
The Academy’s low-cost, low-risk approach is based on the premise that effective academic readiness must address the whole person rather than simply getting individuals through remedial math or English courses. This approach is even more important as the pandemic creates new barriers for many underserved students who already face an uphill climb.
The objective is to develop remarkably resilient learners who can tackle any courses they are likely to face in college. This multi-pronged approach—focusing on academic preparedness and noncognitive social-emotional skills—offers a new model for college success that goes far beyond normal remediation approaches.
The Academy’s Program for Academic and Career Advancement (PACA) is its “secret sauce,” helping students develop persistence, a growth mindset, and self-directed planning and learning skills. It is based on an award-winning course that has been delivered to more than 40,000 WGU students and includes self-paced online modules, live online peer group sessions, and personalized coaching.
Early data shows that the program is producing successful outcomes. When compared to a similar student cohort at WGU, students who completed the Academy’s program prior to enrolling were 10% more likely to achieve on-time progress (OTP)—a measure that indicates if a student is on track and making progress toward on-time graduation—in their first term. First-time college students, specifically, were 15% more likely to achieve first-term OTP.
ROI: Helping Partners Yield Better Academic and Workforce Results
As stakeholders dedicate more resources to expanding higher education access, they must work together to offer scalable solutions that yield far more resilient learners who can succeed in postsecondary programs. Academy programs allow for flexible implementation because they are not required to align with the traditional academic calendar. Therefore, the Academy can support all types of stakeholders with differing needs: summer bridge programs for underprepared high school students entering college in the fall, employer-sponsored programs to prepare employees to return to college, “as needed” support coordinated with schools’ advising departments, and state-wide efforts to expand access.
Student success is always the primary goal, but institutions that invest in meaningful retention efforts consistently benefit. As student retention and graduation rates improve, institutions can expect revenue to improve as well. In fact, one study indicated that a one percentage point increase in retention equated to more than $1 million in revenue for many institutions. For a college or university of 10,000 students with average per-student revenue of $3,000 a term, a one percentage point retention improvement over just four terms can yield over $1 million in additional revenue.
In this extraordinarily challenging time, higher-risk students face even more obstacles as they tackle the rigors of college. Supporting and retaining vulnerable students who go on to realize their higher ed dreams is a win-win-win situation. College readiness programs like WGU Academy produce educated, resilient individuals, which benefits students, employers, and society as a whole.