Sixty Years of Cooperation: Sharing Nursing Enrollments

Happy 60th Anniversary to the Western Institute of Nursing (WIN)! WIN is the western regional nursing organization that succeeded the Western Council on Higher Education for Nursing (WCHEN). Today we welcome Paula McNeil and Anna Galas from NEXus to discuss the history of WIN and the changes the organization has gone through since the separation of WCHEN and WICHE. We are also excited to hear about the NEXus, a program created by WIN and WICHE. The nursing exchange program is an exciting opportunity to reduce costs of online course creation, increase choice of courses for nursing students, and allow for shared courses (which may help reduce administrative costs and barriers).

Read on to learn more about this great program! Thanks to Paula and Anna for your post this week!

-Lindsey Downs

The Western Institute of Nursing (WIN) will celebrate its 60th Anniversary and will present the 50th Annual Communicating Nursing Research conference on April 19-22, 2017 in Denver, C0. We’re “coming home” for this conference. WIN was created as a program of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) in 1957. The Western Council on Higher Education for Nursing (WCHEN) was housed with WICHE in Boulder, CO with Jo Eleanor Elliott as the program director. WCHEN was founded on the core value of the interrelatedness of education, practice, and research, and this value sustains the organization and its programs today.

A planned separation between WCHEN and WICHE began in the mid-1980s, the name was changed to the Western Institute of Nursing (WIN) and by 1995, was sufficiently self-supporting to leave WICHE. The moved to the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Nursing was completed in 1996.

WCHEN’s Communicating Nursing Research Conferences was the first of its kind in the United States (US), and a testament to the courage, vision, and determination of nursing leaders in WIN. At the time of the first conference in 1986, there were only about six nursing programs in the West preparing nurses for leadership positions in nursing education, essentially no body of nursing research, and only about 10 nurses in our region held doctoral degrees, mostly in other disciplines.

The first agenda for WCHEN was to communicate nursing research to help grow the body of nursing knowledge. The first conference presented five research reports with critiques with 44 people in attendance. Steady growth in nursing research and knowledge has continued over the past 50 years. In 2016, there were a total of 194 papers and 465 posters presented to an audience of 926. WIN’s commitment to nursing research, education and practice is reflected in the “NEXus: The Nursing Education Xchange” consortium.

Partnering to Create NEXus – The Nursing Education eXchange

Nexus logo a formal relationship no longer exists, WIN and WICHE have remained amicable partners on a variety of projects, of which NEXus is a highly successful example. As an outgrowth of WICHE’s NEON grant, WIN and WCET joined forces to submit a successful grant to the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, US Department of Education1. The aim of the project was to address the looming nursing shortage and facilitate doctoral students in completing their programs of study by making accessible the distance education courses from among consortium members.

The project had three main goals:

  • through sharing, reduce the costs of creating online courses;
  • increase the choice of courses available to nursing PhD students; and
  • overcome the administrative barriers to students enrolling in shared courses.

Original members that signed the Memorandum of Agreement in 2007 were Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado, University of Northern Colorado, and University of Utah. The project was assisted by consultations from the Great Plains IDEA Project. NEXus differs from Great Plains IDEA in that each member of NEXus offered its own degrees.

Sharing Enrollments in Distance Education Classes

Through NEXus, member institutions offer about 250 courses/academic year (AY) taught through distance modalities. NEXus rents the WICHE ICE database system and makes the nursing courses available through the NEXus Course Catalog. Each institution identifies the courses and seats available, often filling empty seats. Courses are clustered by interest and topic area to assist students and their advisors in selecting the best courses as an elective(s) in the students’ degree programs or possibly substituting for a required course for an off-time student.

The first courses were offered in AY 2006-2007 and started with PhD nursing students. A pilot project to add Doctor of Nursing Practice students to the consortium began in Fall 2009. Many courses are now open to both PhD and DNP students, further enriching the doctoral education experience.

As seen in Table 1, enrollments began slowly in AY 2006-2007 but more than tripled in the 2010 – 2013 academic years. Course enrollments exceeded 100 beginning in AY 2014-2015, and reached 131 in AY 2015-2016. Total enrollments thus far in the project are 752.

Chart with course enrollments

Table 1: Enrollments from 2006 – 2017

Student Feedback: Expand Access to Courses, But There Is a Cost

A total of 138 individuals who have taken NEXus courses have graduated through 2015.

Surveys of students taking a NEXus course are completed at the end of each term. Responses from students are consistent. NEXus students are able to take courses that are not offered on their own campuses, and the consequences of not having an available NEXus course would delay graduations. The most frequently mentioned concern about NEXus courses is the cost.

NEXus courses are offered at a set tuition rate.  The rationale for a set tuition rate is that the tuition among consortium members ranges between $567 and $1,952 per semester hour. The NEXus Common Price has remained steady at $775/semester hour, but will increase to $825 in AY 2017-2018. Consortium members determined that a common price would not disadvantage the programs that have higher tuition. Some institutions with lower tuition have developed ways to compensate for the higher NEXus cost to their students, such as offering scholarships. Revenue from the common price is split between the teaching institution, the home institution and NEXus.

NEXus Partnership Has Grown

NEXus was funded in 2008 through a second grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), US DHHS written by WIN and WCET. The intent of the second grant was to extend the project out of the Western Region. By that time, Arizona State University, University of New Mexico, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Loma Linda University and Washington State University had joined the consortium. The first consortium members outside the region were the University of Kansas and the University of Tyler Texas. The following schools joined from 2012 – 2014: The University at Buffalo, The University of Oklahoma, Idaho State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Hawaii, Case Western Reserve University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Iowa.

The NEXus project is fully sustainable following support from the two federal grants2. A decision by the HRSA Division of Nursing to change its grant focus resulted in a lack of fit with NEXus, and the project was unable to apply for an extension grant. The consortium members responded quickly with the establishment of membership dues. The annual dues and the tuition split based on growth of members has resulted in full sustainability of the project.

Collaborating to Help Students is the Western Way

Students who have taken NEXus courses present their research and DNP projects at the WIN Conference (and other regional conferences), resulting in further growth of nursing research and the body of nursing knowledge. NEXus brings together nursing education, practice and research. It remains an exciting and productive project, the result of cooperation between WIN and WCET/WICHE. It is, after all, the Western Way.


Paula McNeil 2013


Paula A. McNeil, RN, MS
Executive Director
Western Institute of Nursing; Project Director, NEXus








Galas Headshot


Anna Galas, MS
Program Manager









1Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, US Department of Education (FIPSE #P116B040822)

2US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (D09HP09070)

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A Digital Accessibility Agenda for Education

Accessibility is a hot topic in and outside of education. In fact, this month, WCET joined the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD)Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) for Developmental Disabilities awareness month. In honor of that important topic, today, we welcome Rob Abel, Chief Executive Officer with IMS Global Learning Consortium to discuss the importance of accessibility in digital learning. This topic is important not just for students with disabilities but for all students, faculty, staff, and community members that may associate with our institutions.

I hope you will join us for our WCET Webcast this week to continue this conversation! Register now for Enabling Accessibility in Learning Technology Thursday, March 16, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET.

Enjoy this wonderful post, and, thank you Rob for the information and support of accessibility in education!

~Lindsey Downs

Learning is the frontier that defines all other frontiers. Yet, our understanding of the science of learning is very young. How is the explosion of digital devices impacting learning? The answer is “we just don’t know.”

However, we do know that learning is an adaptive process in the brain in which white matter connections among grey matter functional regions are strengthened through interactions with the world. Each human brain contains some 100,000 miles of blood vessels. How they are organized makes us who we are—and there is no one else like you.

What is in your brain has a lot to do with the type of digital experiences you prefer. And, the types of digital experiences you have also impact what is in your brain, bringing to mind Marshall McLuhan’s famous quote, “The medium is the message.”

Student Success and Digital Accessibility

The success of every student, not just those with “disabilities,” is dependent on the impedance match between the medium and their brain. For instance, Jack has a specific preference for large type when reading on his cell phone. Jill prefers audio to reading. Jason has been diagnosed with dyslexia and prefers learning with the help of assistive technology. These situations illustrate just a few examples on the boundaries of the frontier of technology’s impact on learning. All of these scenarios require digital accessibility: easy to find, easy to use, and importantly, meeting the needs of the user and the situation at hand.

A model showing Content Creation Descriptions, including legal requirements and standards, assistive technology settings, platforms and software, personal needs and preference, inclusive design, content creationAccessibility involves a range of products that “come together” during technology-enhanced learning. There is the instructional material itself—the digital textbook, web page or app. This material is delivered via a digital platform—an ebook reader, an LMS, a web browser—sometimes all of them at once. Then, there is the actual computing hardware and operating system that the platform software and instructional material are rendered on. The material may also be available via a range of assistive technologies—magnifier, screen reader, braille embosser, other specialized software or hardware. Importantly, assistive technologies also enable user input.

Accessibility in Higher Education

Every educational institution, regardless of how large, is grappling with the accessibility issues that can “get them in trouble.” Everyone wants to do the right thing for every student. And, while there has been some steady progress on many fronts, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Universal Design for Learning,  accessibility is clearly a need that is under-resourced in terms of both institutional support and supplier investment.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS Global) has been on the leading edge of developing open standards that can enable better accessibility for those with “special needs” but also for all users for more than 15 years. A small but dedicated set of organizations, including IBM, The Open University and WGBH led the development of IMS Global Access for All (AfA), a standard that enables matching of any learner’s needs with digital resources that meet those needs under a variety of usage scenarios, including mobile devices. AfA is now an international standard published by ISO/IEC. IMS Global has also revolutionized digital accessibility in delivery of educational assessment via the Accessible Portable Item Protocol® (APIP®) that was led by ACT, ETS, Measured Progress, Pacific Metrics and Pearson. APIP provides assessment programs and question item developers with a data model for standardizing the interchange file format for digital test items so delivery can be optimized for a variety of special needs. The IMS Global Personal Needs and Preferences (PNP) standard enables the user preferences for both AfA and APIP.

At IMS Global we believe that a high degree of cooperation among the education industry, publishing industry and accessibility associations is required to move the needle on accessibility in education to where it needs to be. Over the last several years IMS Global has collaborated closely with publishing industry associations to leverage a mix of IMS Global standards and the most recent version of ePub, that has been named Edupub. Edupub promises to provide accessibility advances compared to existing digital book formats.

The Future of Accessibility in Education

For those of us in the education sector, institutions, suppliers, and associations, we need to work together to create the future of accessibility in education. However, the ecosystem is complex. IMS Global has an established Institutional Leadership Network focused on accessibility, led by Penn State, Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Michigan and Unizin. IMS Global is also participating on the advisory Board of the Center for Accessible Materials Innovation (CAMI), a first in the world grant program.

The agenda is as simple and complex as building an effective collaboration among the key ecosystem participants. The challenge is in the term “effective.”Chart about education sector collaboration, digital content, publication proviers, personal needs, tools and computing platforms. These different options are all connected.

It is very clear that institutions today are required to replicate similar services. Thus, “effective” requires new collaborations among institutions to find, vet and recommend the right solution to each challenge.

It is also very clear that even though institutions may view suppliers (learning platforms, education publishers, assistive technology providers) as “large” or “well-resourced,” they are not. Education suppliers do not have the same enormous budgets and profits as commercial Internet or computer companies. Not even close. Thus, “effective” requires new collaborations among education sector suppliers.

Join Us!

IMS Global invites all potential collaborators to join in to our efforts to enable accessibility for all. Please contact us to learn more and join in!

For a deeper dive on the information summarized above, please see the App Note: Enhancing Accessibility through IMS Global Standards. Or, join us at the Learning Impact Leadership Institute, Denver, May 16-19, 2017, for the Enhancing Accessibility for All track sessions as well as a full day focused on Assistive Technology.

WCET and the IMS Global Accessibility Institutional Leadership Network invite you to the Enabling Accessibility in Learning Technology webinar on Thursday, March 16, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. ET to explore the challenges and opportunities for standards-based accessibility work.

Rob Abel headshot
Rob Abel, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer
IMS Global Learning Consortium




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The Military Advances on Credentialing and Quality Reviews: Pay Attention

Military personnel and veterans are eager to learn…and most of them do so using educational technologies and distance learning. Given that the United States has been involved in two wars for more than a decade, how do they defend the country and earn a degree in their spare time?

Cheryl Dowd and I attended the recent Council of College and Military Educators (CCME) conference, which attracts those interested in educating active duty military personnel, their families, base/post personnel, and veterans. Those attending represent all branches of the military, higher education institutions, and educational service officers who serve the students on a base or post…or virtually.

Two innovations really caught my eye. One is a massive advance in the complex world of professional credentialing in which active duty personnel can learn about and earn credentials recognized in the civilian world. The other innovation is an interesting experiment in conducting a quality review of institutions serving the military. The review is based on the philosophies of simplicity and transparency.

Credentialing is, Literally, COOL

Kudos to the Army for a re-imagining of how to encourage and enable soldiers to obtain professional credentials. These “credentials” are the industry-relevant in the civilian sector for someone to enter a profession. For some professions, it is a certificate. For others, it is the knowledge and skills to sit for a licensing exam. What they did:

Slide showing sample alignments between military training and civilian credential exam objectives. Shown are three scenarios with perfect alignment, partial alignment, and not closely aligned.

Slide from a presentation on mapping objectives.

  • They identified the knowledge, skills, and training requirements for every position that a soldier could hold. They also identified civilian professional credentials that matched some, most, or all of the Army’s requirements.
  • They mapped the Army requirements to the civilian requirements. They identify any gaps between the Army and civilian requirements.
  • They share this information on an easy-to-use website called COOL for Credentialing Opportunities On-Line.
  • They pay for soldiers to take any assessments required to obtain a credential. They pay for only one attempt and success rates are high.

The employability of veterans has always been an issue. With COOL, soldiers are asked to think about gaining civilian professional credentials early in their military career. Gone are the days when a soldier begins thinking about such credentials in the last few months of his or her enlistment. By gaining the credentials early, the soldier practices the trade and has experience prior to leaving the service. The Army was so successful with this program that all the other services have quickly followed their lead to create similar COOL websites.

Credentialing Observations and Implications for the Rest of Us:

  • Student-Centered. COOL is laser focused on the needs of its audience.
  • This is a fabulous treatment of making a complex credentialing puzzle understandable to the lay person. Should we be replicating this outside of the military application?
  • Not Just Higher Education. The criteria for inclusion of a credential is that it is the one recognized by the industry or profession. It DOES NOT HAVE to be offered by an accredited institution. This is explicit acknowledgement that the world of credentials is morphing before our eyes and is no longer limited to traditional colleges and universities.

An Innovative Swing at the Elusive Quality Review Piñata

More than 2,700 educational providers signed the Department of Defense Memorandum of Understanding that they will follow certain rules and guidelines in serving active duty students receiving “Tuition Assistance” financial aid. Over the last decade, the Department of Defense attempted multiple not-always-so-successful initiatives to assess or audit institutions that signed the agreement.

Iwo Jima statue of marines raising a flag on the top of a mountain.The Department introduced a new review process at the CCME conference. Some interesting hallmarks of this new effort are a) to focus initially on data that is already being reported and b) be very transparent with the formulas used and results obtained.

Each institution will be ranked on the following six risk factors for students using Tuition Assistance (TA) and an overall ranking will be obtained (I apologize if I have some of the metrics incorrectly reported:

  • Rate of Course Completion: ((Total TA enrollments at an institution) – (TA Enrollments not completed or failed)) / (Total TA enrollments at an institution)
  • Sum of Total Complaint Cases. They addressed that their research showed that institutions with larger enrollments did not have significantly more complaints than those with smaller enrollments.
  • Enrollment Changes: Year-to-year change in TA enrollments.
  • Cost to Graduation Ratio: A calculation using graduation rate (presumably TA grad rate, but even that raised a question) and the average cost (do they mean price to the student?) of a course compared to the average cost of a course for all students.
  • Outcome Stability Ratio: The average graduation rate for the institution over a number of years.
  • Transaction Volume: The total number of TA transactions processed by an institution across all services in a given year.

I am not commenting in more depth until I see the full details of each of these calculations and the overall ranking methodology.

This is just the first step, as the top 50 institutions will receive additional questions that promise not to be too intrusive or time-consuming. An additional 200 institutions will be randomly sampled to also receive the questionnaire. Of the sampled institutions, twenty-five institutions will be selected for an in-depth survey process and up to five may undergo on-site visits. Institutions found to be out-of-compliance with the Memorandum of Understanding will be given time to show that they have corrected these discrepancies.

Credentialing Observations and Implications for the Rest of Us:

  • Cost/Price. Given WCET’s recent work on the cost and price of distance education, it is notable that economic considerations have become a factor in this review process. We can probably expect more such analysis in the future outside of the military.
  • I’m not a fan of ranking, but this is an innovative and much more transparent use of them. As with any ranking, will the institutions begin touting their ranking in their marketing materials? Undoubtedly. Is that bad? Not if these “risk factors” work. Will it cause gaming of the numbers? Likely.
  • If this simple-to-understand, transparent model is seen as successful, will accrediting agencies be encouraged to develop similar measures?

Let’s continue to watch these innovations from the military. We can learn from them.

Finally, congratulations to Lane Huber of Bismarck State College, at the close of the conference, he assumed the rank of chair of the CCME Board.

Photo of Russ Poulin with baseball bat

Ready for baseball and regulatory season.


Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies    @russpoulin




Photo Credits:
Presentation slide: Russ Poulin
Iwo Jima Flag Raising:


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Connecticut’s One-Stop Service Increases Enrollment and Retention

WCET has long been a champion of e-learning consortia, multi-institution efforts to partner to do more together than can be done by an individual campus. Today we feature one of them.

In the past, the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (CTDLC) has reported on its multi-campus e-tutoring program, which has been replicated elsewhere. In 2015 they reported on providing a financial aid call center. Today, we are pleased to have CTDLC return to inform us that they built on their financial aid work to create one-step approach to student services. Thank you for sharing.
  — Russ Poulin, WCET

Our students come to us from an increasingly diverse landscape, learning while in traditional classrooms on campus or, perhaps, while traversing the globe in airplanes. In our work across the WCET community, we assure that the instruction is of the highest caliber we can provide. Much has happened on the student support front as well, but perhaps has lagged in comparison to our academic efforts.

Consider that while we have the ability to complete a home mortgage application fully online in a matter of hours, on most campuses students are left to navigate a complex and challenging cadre of needed steps across Admissions, Advising, Financial Aid, Registrar and Bursar offices. While blended welcome centers have begun to replace traditional campus silos, what of that student who is learning from a distance, or another who is balancing multiple responsibilities and time is of the essence?

Failure to complete all of the steps in these complex processes can leave students stopping out or transferring. Meanwhile, colleges and universities lose valuable student enrollments. In response, the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium has worked with our members to create a Student Engagement Call Center, partnering with experts on campus to engage students and guide them in completing admission and enrollment requirements.

Financial Aid Call Center is a Success

“For me, the most compelling evidence of the success of the CTDLC Call Center is that we no longer have long lines of frustrated students waiting to see someone in the financial aid office, no matter what time of the year.”  

Anna M. Wasescha, Ph.D.
Middlesex Community College

In our July 2015 blog post, we shared our experience launching a Financial Aid Call Center. This service has proven successful in freeing up department staff to focus on processing aid and handling complex student issues, with over 90% of the incoming student calls being resolved by our call center staff.  We have also found we can proactively identify high risk students by the nature of the questions they are asking and escalate these to institutional retention specialists for intervention.

Despite these successes, we often find ourselves transferring students and prospects to other departments for help with enrollment-related questions that we don’t have access or training to resolve.   Students and prospects get frustrated when told they need to contact multiple people to complete the process.  In response, we expanded our service set to include Admissions, Advising, Registrar and Bursar, offering students one place to receive help.

One Ring to Rule Them All

With all department phone lines redirected to the CTDLC Call Center, prospects and students now get all their questions answered in just one call. We began by providing full lifecycle support (recruitment to retention) to prospective and enrolled students in the Advanced Manufacturing Program at seven Connecticut community colleges.  In partnership with the CT Department of Labor and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System Office, we provided Live Chat, an online form and a phone line for incoming calls.   Here is the process we put in place:

Students identify their preferred method of contact:

Screen image that says

Once interest in the program is established, the Call Center guides the prospect through all stages of the enrollment process.

When a student inquiry transitions to an enrolled student we continue to be a resource via the webpage knowledgebase, phone line, and Live Chat. Students contact us with process and status questions throughout their time in the program, creating a one-stop support experience regardless of institution.

Finally, throughout the student lifecycle we provide proactive monitoring and outbound communications regarding enrollment, financials, and course persistence concerns.  These calls are targeted to students meeting specific criteria and are designed to prompt/navigate those students to take specific actions. Wherever possible, we guide the student through the outstanding action or task.

This program proved that the majority of prospect and student inquiries were process and status questions which could be addressed by our call center with the remaining 10% requiring subject matter expertise resulting in escalation to a specific department. In 2016, we began to offer full student lifecycle support to individual institutions taking multi-department incoming calls as well as conducting proactive, scheduled outbound calls throughout the year.

Workflow chart. 1st step on Recruitment: initial inquiry-information gathering and program orientation. 2nd step enrollment: admissions process guidelines. 3rd step retention: website knowledgebase plus phone and LiveChat.

Outbound Call Campaign for 12 Community Colleges

As word got out about our success making outbound calls to high risk students, we were asked by our system office to partner with the twelve Connecticut Community Colleges to provide this service to current students at risk of not completing a required step to remain enrolled. This campaign was the first large scale effort like this for the system. We contacted nearly 20,000 students in late July and August and saw over 8,000 of those students became enrolled.

Our support center staff called and guided students to take the required steps to remain actively enrolled at their institution (i.e., missing required documents, enrolled but not paid, awarded not accepted). 80% of the students we spoke with followed through and were retained.

“We found that most students wanted to remain enrolled and often just needed a helping hand or a gentle reminder to get them there.  In this age of text messaging, social media and online shopping we sometimes forget the importance of the human touch. These calls show the students that the college cares about them.”  

Les Cropley
Support Center Manager
Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium

We also contacted former students, now considered ‘stop outs’, who left in good standing, but failed to return. 35% of the ‘stop outs’ we spoke with (students in good standing within the last 2 semesters that had failed to return) re-enrolled in the fall semester. The enrollments were impressive but the data we collected were perhaps the most valuable assets of the campaign. The system office received an executive summary along with our recommendations while each college president received a report specific to their institution. The information formed a baseline for future campaigns and is being used to make informed decisions regarding process improvements.

One-Stop Support Model Campus Wide

To support our planning and development efforts, we partnered with a community college that already had a strong culture of student centered support. They saw the correlation between a high-touch support model and increased enrollments and retention. With their departmental phone lines pointing to our Call Center, we are able to provide live support seven days a week and assist with multi-department questions and requests.

“In the face of declining enrollment and diminished resources we decided to partner with the CTDLC to proactively address the challenges before us. This strategic enrollment management approach at HCC yielded enrollment of more than half of students targeted (1,130 students) and prevented 400+ non-payment deletions. In addition, as a result of our partnership with CTDLC we’ve noticed approximately a 50% reduction in incoming call volume to the various departments. This reduced call volume allows our staff to focus more of their time providing optimal service to our students.”

Paul Brodie II, Ph.D.
Housatonic Community College

Although the service set is still young, we have seen very encouraging results. We have observed a significant reduction of approximately 50% in incoming calls with the one-stop model. We believe this is indicative of students getting their questions answered in a single call rather than having to work with multiple departments.

Feedback from students has been very positive and institutional staff have reported faster processing times as they are able to focus their attention on high yield activities and solving complex student issues. In our outbound campaigns, we have seen evidence of increased enrollments and retention. The data we are collecting are significant and are being used to streamline processes, reduce transfers, highlight program needs and justify the investment in student services.

What’s Next?

As institutions continue to struggle with declining enrollments and ongoing retention issues, it’s clear that supporting students through all phases of their college career is needed. The hybrid approach of combining a remote call center with highly skilled on-campus staff offers a proven combination of “always available” support along with high-touch service for those who need it.

With that in mind, we are currently expanding our one-stop model to all twelve Connecticut community colleges to support inbound and outbound calls.  This will allow for service equity across every campus as well as data collection and summary reporting that cuts across traditional campus silos. The benefits to students, institutional staff, and the system as a whole are exciting and potentially game changing. We look forward to taking this next step, helping the colleges and students we serve to succeed.Cathy Bergen, author of the post, smiling at you.

Cathy Bergren
Director of Service Delivery
Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium



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Creating an inclusive student environment at UNE Online

I believe that developing an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment is an important aspect of effective teaching and learning. But, how can we foster such an environment? Especially in an online classroom, where it may be harder to make connections between faculty and student?

Today we welcome Gregory Andrews, the Student Support Specialist at the University of New England’s (UNE) College of Graduate and Professional Studies. Greg will discuss UNE’s institutional philosophy for welcoming students to create an inclusive online environment.

Are you as equally inclusive in your classroom? What do you do to respect student identities in the online classroom environment?

Enjoy today’s post!

-Lindsey Downs

When looking for colleges, whether online or the more traditional brick and mortar, many students look at tangible areas. Questions often asked are: ‘How much will this cost?’ ‘How long is the program?’ ‘Are there residency requirements?’ ‘Is there a decent professor to student ratio?’ The list goes on and on.

One question that is rarely asked of an institution is ‘How will you make me feel like an individual?’ On top of this, nobody ever asks ‘How will you respect and work with my identities and create an inclusive environment?’ Whether social identities (religious, gender, race, etc.) or personal identities (parent, athlete, full time employee, etc.), these are often areas that a person must work with to create the best situation in a college environment, and rarely does a student question the institution unless it is a major issue.

The UNE Online Way

UNE Online however answers these questions before they are ever asked. You may be reading this and asking yourself how an online college program can possibly answer all of these questions regarding identities. The answer is simple; UNE Online listens to each student, and not only reactively but proactively.

Whether you’re a student in the Masters of Science in Education programs, Masters in Public Health, or even thgroup of students with various technology devicese Masters in Medical Education Leadership, you’re not given a voice; you’re simply encouraged to use the one you already have. Enrollment Specialists and Student Support Specialists are in contact with you from the moment you inquire about a program until the moment you graduate, and beyond if you like!

The inherent value of online education is the ability to work within the student’s schedule. Most people reflect on employment as the major reason why that is important, but consider this, UNE Online has students all over the world in different time zones, practicing different cultures.

Here at UNE Online, our staff creates opportunities to connect with each student to learn about their needs, and how to best make the connection between what they already know, and what our programs want to deliver!

Staff and Student Connections

You may be curious about the ways that we build connections between students and staff members.  We recognize that distance can be tough, so we are willing and able to utilize many different ways to stay connected. While e-mail and phone calls are the usual ways we stay in touch, our staff is always willing to go above and beyond. Skype or Google Hangout video chats are common, especially when we are reaching out to students in other countries.

In some cases, our students may not have the best connections or reception, and a simple instant message conversation might be in order.

We strive to keep students connected to the UNE community by checking in occasionally, and communicating ways that meets their technological needs!

The Platinum Rule

In the meantime, our support staff initiates“New Student Conversations” with every single newly enrolled student. word cloud or word jumble with the words golden, rule, and platinum. Platinum is in the middle in larger letters

The purpose of these calls is to get to know each student. The Student Support Specialists are looking to learn more about each person, from background, to goals for the future.

It is in these conversations that the UNE Online staff seeks to live by the “Platinum Rule” of Social Justice and Diversity, “Do unto others, as they would have done unto themselves.” Basically, the Student Support Specialists strive to create a connection and an inclusive environment that ensures every student has a chance to be themselves. They become a name, a person, a backstory, and a future graduate. Our students are never just a number.


When you’re a student with a UNE Online program, you are a person, and you are every bit as accepted as a person as you were when we called you to congratulate you on your entrance into your program.

So when we say “Welcome” at UNE Online, we mean it in a way that is very holistic and inclusive. If you’re currently a student with a UNE Online program, let me once again say, “Welcome.”

If you’re not a student with UNE Online, we welcome you to consider us, where acceptance is more than a letter, it’s an educational experience.

Greg Andrews headshot

Gregory Andrews
Student Support Specialist
University of New England’s
College of Graduate & Professional Studies

This post was originally published on the UNE Online Vision Blog.
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Mission Accomplished: St. Leo’s New Ecosystem Transforms Learning

You’ve heard of course management tools, you’ve heard of ePortfolios… but you’ve never heard of this!

This week we welcome Dr. Jeff Borden, the Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Leo University, to discuss the implementation of a new and exciting learning ecosystem. That’s right, an entire system with one goal: an infrastructure to transform learning for students. Read on to learn about the Lion SHARE system and the implementation strategies involved.  We’re thrilled to learn about this platform as the journey continues!

Lindsey Downs

Do you remember when then-President George W. Bush stood on that aircraft carrier with the banner strung behind him stating, “Mission Accomplished?”

While the banner was created by the crew of the ship which was returning from deployment, the world saw it as our leader stating that we had beaten terrorism. The speech (and pictures) became quite controversial with many asking if any kind of proclamation of that magnitude was appropriate, etc.

Today, I make just as controversial a statement. On January 9, 2017, Saint Leo University transformed learning.

Oh My, Is this Another EdTech Fad?

I know that you know just how controversial this is. After all, people have been ringing the bell of disruption and transformation for decades. MOOCs will change everything, adaptive platforms will finally fix education, connectivism is the answer, etc. Heck, I remember being in high school when “Base 8” was unleashed on my younger sister. It was going to “fix” our country’s problem with math. Sigh.

But more than the obvious generic cynicism, I know this statement to be specifically controversial. I know this because on multiple occasions I or one of my staff have explained what we built to others and they have actually (although politely) called us liars. Their experience is usually cognizant of how detrimental politics is to education (despite its ubiquity), so people simply do not believe we could do in under 18 months what we in fact did. So what did we do?the Lions SHARE logo

Simply – we built an infrastructure that will transform learning for students, at scale. Lions SHARE is the infrastructure for a new paradigm regarding learning which includes a social, course, ePortfolio, synchronous, and productivity toolset. It supports best practices in andragogy, ed tech, neuroscience, assessment, and curriculum management. We’ve built a multi-tool system acting as one which white-labels every tool so that users will not need to know brands and can call our support team to get help with the entire system from a single communication point.

We’ve built a learning ecosystem.

What Exactly is this Learning Ecosystem You Assembled?

Yep, that message is packed with buzz words and fortified with ambiguity! So let me deconstruct it just a bit.

Our learning ecosystem – a word I use intentionally because of the notion of interdependence between parts – is now whole. While we still have a few integrations left to do, students will see ONE system vs. the five user-facing and nine back-end commercial tools in play. Faculty will see a system that introduces legitimate artificial intelligence (AI) to help create better learning experiences and drive efficiencies. Saint Leo as an organization now has an infrastructure that allows any learning variable to be contrasted, compared, or correlated to any other learning variable throughout the entire system.

But How Did You Succeed Where So Many Others Have Failed?

But, to those who are still coming back to the idea of, “too good to be true,” let me see if I can quell what I assume are natural arguments.

Users (aka faculty and students) won’t use it.

It’s easier to inoculate against a bad practice when you know it’s coming. In my time, I’ve likely seen 1,000+ strategies and initiatives fall flat because of poor adoption. In some cases, the “duck-n-cover” approach that many faculty use was employed. Being intelligent people, faculty watch as the initiative-du-jour is touted term after term or year after year, only to be completely absent within 12 months, as the next “big idea” takes center stage. Likewise, is the poor assumption that faculty are somehow different from everyone else when it comes to technology adoption.

Does higher education employ luddites? Sure. Does banking, insurance, and health care? Yep. But most faculty are reasonable. In other words, if you put a solution in front of them that actually makes their lives better, easier, etc., they will adopt it. If the pain of adoption isn’t too hard and / or the solution itself doesn’t create new problems that are worse than the original, reasonable people will adopt it.


Screen shot from the LIONS Share platform

The difference between a professor and the rest of the population isn’t their aversion to risk, it’s their ability to argue against poor solutions. My college-administration father always says, “Faculty put the critic in critical thinking.” They can wield an argument like a surgeon’s scalpel, so you had better be sure a solution is actually a solution before putting in front of the professoriate.

Faculty and students won’t use what they don’t have to use. 

I’m not sure if this is as true as it used to be, but there is likely some merit to this. So, taking a page from Steve Jobs (who knew the iPod wouldn’t be nearly as powerful or popular as a phone that leveraged iPod capabilities) we created Lions SHARE to be used. Yes, we will require usage for simple things like a syllabus, entering official grades, and deployment of end-of-course surveys, but it will take more than that.

One such example is our Artificial Intelligence strategy.  If you give faculty and students the ability to do something they couldn’t do without your solution, reasonable people will adopt it! So, let’s take the conundrum of groups. Faculty (generally speaking) hate using groups. There are a myriad of reasons, from grading an individual for someone else’s performance to problems with group cohesion leading to hatred of groups by students, and beyond. But I think it is fair to say that groups are not used very often, nor very effectively in education.

But what if we could help solve one issue (at a time) through Lions SHARE?

Screen shot from lions share platform

Screen shot from the Lions SHARE platform

What if we had a “smart group” builder?  What if professors could say they wanted to ensure each group had a leader in it? What if they could group students by those who typically finish group work early vs. last minute so as not to frustrate students? What if they could pull indicators from other classes, social networks, personality inventories, and other tools to generate better groups from the start?  Now we’re talking about a system that will do things an individual cannot.  And that leads to more and more adoptions.

One system?  In 18 months?  No way.

We do hear that a lot.

But here are a few data points. First, we brought our partners (no, not commercial providers, but PARTNERS) to campus last year.

Note that we didn’t bring account managers – instead, we brought technologists. (Sorry account managers out there. I know you have a number to hit and everything…) We locked them in a room with plenty of caffeine and sugar and made them promise to give us a single system.

And for the most part, they bought in.  They agreed to help us.  How?  By giving up normally required tools for the greater good. Take profiles. Just about every technology system has one. But we don’t need 5 profiles for our users, we only need 1.


Screen shot from lions SHARE platform, profiles

They agreed to SHARE a profile from one of the tools, integrating it with all of the other platforms. Same for calendar. Same with helpdesk support – call one number for all tools and get help 24 hours a day. And imagine using a social networking tool for more than just profile based connections and more than just organizational / event subscriptions, but also connecting academic conversations into an activity feed. Now we’re talking. Branding and single sign on through ADFS was also helpful, but the partnership model is what really got us there.

But What about the People Involved?

I know, I know – I talked a ton of about technology here when the real magic is in the people. This is why we have a full-scale rollout of training for faculty, students, and staff. We have levels of training (Essentials, Savvy, and Sage) giving specific access to tools based on the training one has achieved.

As acumen grows, so will our ties to higher order learning theory and practice.

screen shot of lions share

Screen shot from the LIONS Share platform

We have completely redesigned our online courses to take advantage of both this system as well as what we know to be better practices with regard to learning. No more are we just trying to mimic bad practices from the face-to-face classroom in a digital fashion! We are leveraging the power of a digital world to craft better pedagogical / andragogical conditions, but that’s another blog.

And don’t forget the data. We’re betting on a bevy of better metrics than just grades or surveys. We will be able to show a student their growth as a learner over time, including how they learn best, and how TO learn best after they leave our school…

Find Out More…

If I haven’t convinced you, but have piqued your interest, I encourage you to continue to follow our progress. We have given our faculty the Essentials training. But like most people use less than 25% of their smart phone’s capability, we know the effective usage of our new system will require perpetual training and strategizing. And we are committed to doing just that.

Lions SHARE will transform learning.

Good luck and good learning!


Headshot of Dr. Jeff Borden


Dr. Jeff D Borden
Chief Innovation Officer
Saint Leo University




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Distance Ed Costs and Price: Not as Closely Correlated as You’d Think

What do you know about the price and cost of distance education? What do we charge students (the “price”)? How much does the institution spend to create the course (the “cost”)? In order to learn more about this issue, WCET conducted a survey with colleges and university leaders regarding the price and cost of distance courses.

Today we welcome Russ Poulin and Terri Taylor Straut to introduce the WCET Distance Education Price and Cost report. Today’s post will provide background on the survey and an overview of the results. Join us again soon for more in-depth discussions of results and Russ and Terri’s commentary on this important work.

Enjoy the read,

~Lindsey Downs

The long-held belief among legislators, governors, and other leaders is that distance courses should cost less to produce and deliver. Therefore, they assume that the price paid by students enrolled in these courses should be less than courses taught on campus.

WCET’s Steering Committee wanted more data about this issue. A committee (Joan Bouillon, Pearson; Tom Cavanaugh, University of Central Florida; Preston Davis, Northern Virginia Community College; and John Opper, Florida Virtual Campus) helped WCET staff identify the question for a survey of distance education professionals conducted last year.

Today, we release the results of that survey, additional interviews with higher education costing experts, and an in-depth report on the politics surrounding these issues in one state. As you will see in our concluding opinions, WCET’s Distance Education Price and Cost report is meant to provoke additional dialogue.

Distance Education Tuition is Usually the Same, but Fees Lead to a Higher Student Price

The reality at most institutions, according to the WCET survey, couldn’t be further from the truth with more than half (54.2%) of our respondents reporting that distance students pay more than on-campus students when tuition and fees are added. About three-quarters (75.1%) of institutions who completed the study indicated that tuition was the same, but the added fees continue to result in the price to students of distance courses being more.

Pink piggy bank with coins

The WCET report provides in-depth analysis of the issues of cost and price based on our survey and interviews with industry experts.

The analysis provides enough data and differing opinions to challenge the perspectives of just about anyone who reads it. It’s our belief that all parties involved in setting the price for distance education courses need a dose of the realities that the “others” are facing. This report provides those differing perspectives.

Relevant Definitions:

A common understanding of the terms used is essential. Survey respondents were given the following definitions in the introduction to the survey:

  • “Price” – This is the amount of money that is charged to a student for instruction. The components are tuition and fees. In the questions, we will be clear as to which “price” component (tuition, fees, or total price) is being queried.
  • “Cost” – This is the amount of money that is spent by the institution to create, offer, and support instruction.
  • “Distance Education” – When thinking of “distance education,” we favor the Babson Survey Research Group definition of 80% or more of the course being taught at a distance.

Distance Education Doesn’t Have to Cost More 

Our survey of distance education professionals asked detailed questions about the cost of twenty-one components in four categories (preparing, teaching, assessing students, and supporting faculty and students) of creating and delivering distance courses. Chart showing cost comparision of face to face and distance courses. 0% of face to face cost less, 57.1 % had no difference, 42.5% cost moreThe results reveal that for twelve (57.1%) of the components the respondents thought there was no difference in the costs. For nine (42.9%), of the components respondents thought that distance courses cost more and, in some cases, much more. Respondents did not identify a single component of a distance course at their institution that costs less.

 But, Does It Necessarily Have to Cost More?

Along with the survey of distance education professionals, we conducted interviews with higher education experts who have done extensive research and thinking on the higher education cost issue. Most of those experts who we interviewed challenged the status quo thinking that the cost of distance courses must be higher. They echoed an opinion that we heard from a few of the distance education professionals that many of the technologies and practices that began in distance courses are becoming ubiquitous across campus and the cost differences are lessening. In fact, some of them contend that when distance courses are designed from scratch, without trying to emulate the classroom model, they can be both more effective and cheaper.

It’s All about Mission

Historically, distance education’s mission has been to overcome the barriers of place or time. The mission was not to control costs. In fact, to reach some locations is costly. Distance education should not be held accountable to a mission it was never given.

The Price and Cost Debate is Getting Political

In recent years, governors and legislators have openly wondered about the price and cost equation. Decreased state funding has often been replaced by increases to tuition and fees. shadowed text art with word "political"Now that their constituents are complaining about affordability, they are asking uncomfortable questions. Meanwhile, distance education professionals are caught in a higher education economics ethos that shuns open examination of price and cost…and are expected to answer to a “controlling cost” mission that was not given them in the first place.

Russ Adkins, distance education expert and long-time friend of WCET, volunteered to add a chapter updating the actions over the last few years in his home state of Florida. The issues of cost and price have become very political there. The Florida Legislature created UF Online that is mandated to charge a price that is 25% lower than its on-campus counterparts. The Governor capped the distance education fees and threatened to eliminate them. A task force was created to examine distance education costs. Will other state’s follow suit?

Join the ConversationSeveral people in an office talking

The report presents different points of view both in the status of how things are and how they could be. There are sections that will encourage and annoy all readers.

Now it’s your turn.

Comment on this post. You can offer to write a post that outlines price and costs in your settings. WCET members should watch for a discussion item on these issues on Friday. Suggest other resources.

We will be talking about these issues throughout the year. Watch for more.



Headshot image of Terri
Terri Taylor Straut
Senior Research Analyst
State Authorization Network
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


Russ Poulin
Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


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Words can be intimidating: Cybersecurity and Our Role in Higher Education

Today we welcome Mike Abbiatti, the executive direction of WCET and WICHE Vice President for Educational Technologies, to WCET Frontiers. Mike will discuss the term cybersecurity in higher education, why we should care about protecting privacy and data, and actions we can take to protect ourselves and our students from various data attacks.

Thank you Mike for bringing these important issues into the light!

Look for more from WCET in the upcoming months regarding privacy and data protection in higher education!

Enjoy this post,


The term “Cybersecurity” has multiple meanings and associated connotations throughout the Higher Education community. To the technical community, visions of hardware, software and specific technical skills take center stage. cybersecurity-wordle3In administration, Cybersecurity means enormous risks and costs associated with internal and external threats that impact students, faculty, staff, and donors. They must plan for the relatively new investments in cyber insurance and trained staff. To the faculty, cybersecurity means a specter that can be invoked by clicking on an unfamiliar (or seemingly familiar) link or attachment. Or by intentional sabotage by an unhappy employee or student. There is certainly more interpretation of the term Cybersecurity across our enterprise.

For the purpose of this blog post, I will dispatch with the term Cybersecurity and replace it with Privacy and Data Protection (PDP). After all, our community is in the business of providing access to curated content and credentials. We don’t prefer to delve into the infrastructure (that’s what IT folks do) and we aren’t impacted by the high level administrative issues……or are we? Is PDP so compartmentalized that we don’t need to worry about the topics addressed by IT and the institutional administration?

Why Should We Care about Privacy and Data Protection?

We are going great guns developing and distributing meaningful content all over the world! We are significantly responsible for bringing students of all ages, philosophies, localities, and backgrounds to the institution with every kind of technology known to man. The fact that technology moves from the home to the campus today is a great boon to technology-enhanced education, especially online delivery. So why should we care about Privacy and Data Protection?

Well, one needs only to do a few cursory (no pun intended) Google searches, or read some local news, one would see the risks that are inherent in what we do so well every day.  Our programs are clearly in the center of PDP because we present ourselves as a lucrative target for cyberthieves, and we are not spending much time or resources on protecting our information from would-be wrong-doers.

Figure in a hoodie sweatshirt standng in front of binary code (1s and 0s) over a world mapWe collectively assume that the role of technology is to enable higher education to lead the way into the future. Perhaps, the most unexpected and unregulated aspect of our progress is PDP. We are so proud of the mountain of data we collect on students, graduates, faculty, staff, donors, and potential donors, etc., we have overlooked the importance of having well thought-out and supported strategies that help us manage what we see today. We thereby have a much better chance of responding to challenges in the future. We would not expect less of our medical care, banking system or travel/transportation systems.

We are experiencing expensive ransomeware attacks, Denial of Service outages, theft of intellectual capital and attacks aimed at unsuspecting staff and students resulting in identity theft and all manner of undefined problems that seem to be on the increase in Education. It appears that the bad guys have the high ground at this point in history. The very open and trusting nature of our world has resulted in Higher Education being labeled as a Soft Target by law enforcement and the bad guys/girls.

Strategy and Actions to Protect Ourselves

Our current inability to protect our important information from bad actors can be mitigated by a clear Cybersecurity (or PDP) Strategy composed of three areas of responsibility operating together with a common vision.

First, we must accept the fact that our individual responsibility for protecting information is the foundation for success. We must educate ourselves about what to do, and what not to do to thwart and report both internal and external cyberthreats. The external hacker is not as dangerous as the internal employee threat. A sign on a fence that states to keep out its private property.Furthermore, the internal threat is characterized by unintentional actions on behalf of good-intentioned employee that expose personal and organizational data to external criminals. Long-term costs are very high and increasing.

Second, teams and operational units in higher education who design and carry out projects must accept the responsibility to protect critical data. We must reject the old mindset that IT is responsible for such things. In our world, we are bringing more new users of digital infrastructure than any other campus unit. In my humble opinion, our organizations should be raising the flag, and helping lead the way forward in being sure Privacy and Data Protection are front and center.

Third, our organizational leadership must accept the responsibility to provide the policy framework and resources required to make the Cybersecurity Strategy successful. Financial and political (policy) support for an effective PDP environment are critical.

Ask These Questions. Take Some Action.

In summary, Privacy and Data Protection in technology-enhanced education, particularly online education, is a real challenge with real consequences for failing to recognize the threat(s).

I will leave you with two interesting questions:

  1. What is the cost of a data theft event in higher education? Remember, the cost is not totally measured in dollars.
  2. Secondly, who is responsible for PDP Strategy on your campus?

If you will take the time to answer these questions, then I predict your viewpoint on working with IT, and administrators to be sure each level of responsibility is active will change.

Technology-enhanced education is both a blessing and a curse. Let’s empower ourselves and our students to benefit from the blessing and minimize the curse. It takes the entire institutional team to accomplish this complex mission. The WCET membership represent the tip of the sword in this ongoing battle.



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Mike Abbiatti
Executive Director, WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
WICHE Vice President for Educational Technologies



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System(s) for CBE Readiness: Enabling Student Affordability and Success

Competency Based Education allows students to advance toward a completion goal based on their mastery of a skill or competency at their own pace. Establishing a CBE program can seem like a daunting task,  but, luckily, this post contains some help!

This week on WCET Frontiers we have a wonderful post from Carlos Rivers. Carlos brings ideas and inspiration for an institution looking to start a CBE program, based on experiences with developing a CBE framework at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Thank you Carlos for the resources and advice on CBE program development.

Enjoy the read,


This post compiles institutional knowledge about CBE from key stakeholders at Texas A&M University-Commerce, including the Vice President for Student Access and Success (Dr. Mary Hendrix), Texas Affordable Baccalaureate program staff, Registrars, Financial Aid Office, and our Institutional Research Division. This guided article would not have been possible without their expertise and collaboration.

Are you CBE Ready?

That was the first question I asked attendees this past October at the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate (TAB) Intensive. Co-hosted by the Institute for Competency-Based Education (ICBE) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the Intensive was a one-day event that included sessions on planning and implementing Competency-Based Education programs in higher education.

Attendees primarily were Texas institutions seeking TAB Grant Program funds to develop their own CBE programs throughout the state. While there was a lot of enthusiasm from attendees, figure one clearly shows that a majority (70%) of them clearly do not think their “back-end” business systems are ready to deliver CBE. The road will not be easy, but institutions that are selected in this statewide expansion of TAB degree programs can achieve significant cost savings for students and an analysis of the data after three years into the program indicate the potential to improve efficiencies for institutions.

This post focuses on the Inspiration & Investigation section of the new ICBE Development Framework for CBE programs, particularly on System(s) for CBE Readiness. Our hope is that this short guide from our experience at Texas A&M University-Commerce (TAMU-C) helps other institutions on their quest to adopt new educational models that have the potential to serve underrepresented pockets (often deep) of students.

Chart showing results from survey question

The TAB program at TAMU-C is the state’s first SACSCOC-approved competency-based baccalaureate degree offered by a public university in Texas. In 2012, there was not a lot of research on CBE out there, nor real efforts of collaboration amongst IHEs developing these types of programs. Needless to say, the planning & implementation stages felt much like the famous expression “building the plane while flying it.”

Fortunately for all of us there is now a plethora of resources on CBE to get you on the fast track to success. However, I will still warn you: when it comes to CBE, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. IHEs have begun to open up and share their own experiences, but I caution you to always be open to surprises and be ready to adapt, because what is true for one institution may not apply in your specific CBE model.

Include Every Academic and Operational Unit in Planning for CBE

Before discussing system(s) for CBE readiness, how many of you have already started to build your on-campus partnerships for a successful CBE implementation? Think about all the areas that implementing a new innovative program touches. Figure two shows examples of these important stakeholders. For example, the HR Director’s assistance was crucial to determine a faculty compensation model, and involving the Director of Testing was important to determine TSI requirements for these returning students.

My advice, which now in hindsight seems like a given: get key stakeholders involved early in the process, and let them have a voice. Remember, you are going to be asking folks who have probably been doing the same operations for the past decade, to adapt to a completely different model. Get them involved early, to avoid problems once your program is operational. Figure showing CBE Program Implementation

How We Addressed Our Systems and Business Process

Below is a guideline of each system and business process, and how we tackled each at TAMU-C:

Learning Management System (LMS): When this project started in 2012, we faced a big problem: our LMS was not intended to deliver CBE courses and competencies. LMS issues included the need for middleware that populate students in non-standard terms and also allow students to accelerate. A pre-test assessment was crucial to direct the student’s learning path to demonstrate proficiency. Your LMS selection needs to be able to adapt to the student’s individual learning needs. In essence, you have to start thinking about the SIS/LMS data integration task early. While some institutions decide to build their LMS in-house for CBE models, this route for traditional institutions can end up being quite costly; besides, most LMS vendors have or have plans to update their existing product roadmap to include a CBE friendly environment. Other institutions have decided to have two separate systems, one for CBE and another for traditional modalities. At TAMU-C we decided on one LMS for all of our programs, ensuring that our LMS vendor provides an entire ecosystem for learning, no matter the model. As you decide on your LMS selection for CBE, also consider that there are plenty of smaller LMS vendors that are eager to test the waters; seeking partnerships might allow you to reduce your overall costs.

Customer Relationship Management System (CRM): During summer, I attended the Noel Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention. In more than one session I heard, “If you do not have a CRM, what are you waiting for?” Currently, the TAB program staff tracks contact and interactions in a spreadsheet, as you can imagine, this is an intensive manual process. At TAMU-C we recently have opted for Salesforce, which will allow us to capture faculty-learner interactions in a consistent format ideal for both analytics and reporting. It is crucial to start thinking how you will develop your engagement metrics for your program.

Student Information System (SIS): Our CBE model is based on 7-week term parameters; essentially, there are two TAB Terms within the traditional semester structure. Unfortunately for us, our SIS centers on standard terms. We had to create part-of-term codes within our standard term code structures in order to differentiate student enrollment metrics from one TAB term to the next. Most SIS (including yours, I suspect) focus largely on standard terms. I caution you that the workaround to adapt current systems is massively labor intensive, but not impossible. Some of the issues we have faced with non-standard terms include: state reporting for funding, tracking of census dates, drops for non-payment and payment plans, and tracking of veteran and military service members benefits.

Financial Aid: Issues related to financial aid arose from our SIS focusing on standard terms. Our CBE model requires not only 7-week parameters but also the ability to allow students to accelerate. All aspects of financial aid became an intensive manual process with spreadsheets, since Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) must be tracked for each individual student. A perfect example is the challenge of awarding Incompletes:

“A full-time TAB student has to enroll in 6 SCHs for financial aid to disburse. Let’s say the student masters the competencies and completes his/her courses successfully before the end of the TAB Term. Now the student has the option to accelerate by taking an additional course for the same flat rate, reducing their overall cost per course for the term. If the student completes the course, great, but what happens if the student doesn’t complete this third course by the end of the term? This student would be awarded an incomplete, despite having successfully completing two courses in their required full-time load. This incomplete would not allow SAP to be calculated, resulting in the loss of financial aid funds to the student for the next term, even though he/she accelerated.”

Point being, you have to be careful when awarding Incompletes to accelerators on financial aid. It is important to mention that there is a growing need for financial aid solutions/providers to support non-standard term models, or, together, we must request to our current SIS providers to update their systems to award financial aid correctly to meet CBE requirements.

Data Analytics/Predictive Analytics: The word analytics may sound daunting, but it is a very important piece to guarantee the validity of your program. When I came into this position in 2015, most metrics were being collected manually from program inception. What used to be a two to five-day process, turned into seconds from the push of a button, after automating key metrics. I would recommend finding a Business Intelligence (BI) tool that meets your needs or leverage current tools on your campus. However, you need to make sure you have the right talent to turn raw data into a competitive advantage for your institution. In our case, we partnered with our IR team to build CBE specific metrics.

Also, as important, be sure to embed continuous improvement processes in your metrics. For example: ICBE keeps running averages of each CBE metric since program inception, and we use the averages as benchmarks to analyze current term performance. Another growing field in higher education — and I saw a lot of use-case scenarios at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference — is the use of predictive analytics to better understand student populations. While business intelligence has been used to understand what has happened and improve strategic planning moving forward, predictive analytics allows you to see what is happening now, so you can act on that knowledge today, when it matters. The use case scenarios ranged from making intervention programs on target populations to graduation/retention initiatives that have the potential to enable student success at all our institutions.

Transcription: A survey by the Technical Interoperability Pilot (TIP) project indicated that 42% of C-BEN institutions are issuing “dual transcripts.” The first transcript contains the traditional credit hour grade measures, while the other includes CBE mastery-based achievement designations. At our institution, students must attain an 80% or better on a post-assessment and/or project to pass the course. Faculty post a grade of A, B or F that is then converted to our traditional numeric GPA scaling system for transcription. Why did we take this route? We wanted to make sure our TAB students’ transcripts look identical to those of their peers in traditional degree programs to guarantee transferability and/or ease of application to graduate programs. Because we also understood the importance of providing evidence of learning to employers, we also use an e-portfolio to document proficiency.

Staffing: The TAB program at our institution is led by a program director with an administrative assistant who helps with daily operations. Two, professional-track faculty positions also teach in the program and provide orientation sessions to new students. The program uses existing faculty, university staff who meet SACSCOC credentialing requirements, and a few adjunct faculty who are paid an overload of $250 per student enrolled. Enrollment is capped at 35 students per course.

I leave the success coach for last, because this role has proven to be one of the most important roles to consider. This individual is there to motivate/assist students to move through the program. Current students and graduates of the program have expressed over and over how this individual has helped them move through the program to completion. You must figure out how a CBE model will affect faculty roles and loads/compensation, and discuss what additional staffing needs may arise with these new education models.

Recommended Tools: This post would not be complete without a couple of tools to help you along your CBE journey. The CBE Design planner by C-BEN helps institutions in creating high-quality CBE programs with access to a range of resource to get you on your way. The NCHEMS free CBE Cost Modeling Tool allows you to estimate CBE-related cost and revenues. NCHEMS provides both a blank worksheet and a sample to get you started!

We Plan to Expand and We Welcome Your Questions

This is a brief overview of what TAMU-C faced in its quest to implement our first CBE program. Currently, we are hoping to get two more CBE degrees on their way at our institution. We hope this short guide serves you in the development of your own program.

At the ICBE we strive for collaboration and the sharing of resources to avoid duplications of efforts, and to enhance best practices in CBE. We encourage readers to reach out to the ICBE to build partnerships, collaborate in research, and/or answer any follow-up questions you may have. For more information, please feel free to reach out to me at

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Carlos Rivers, MBA
Operations Research Analyst
Institute for Competency-Based Education
Texas A&M University-Commerce

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Providing Online Faculty with Support Services Can Make the Difference

What is the attitude toward online teaching on your campus? What has it been historically? Today on WCET Frontiers we are thrilled to have guest authors from Wiley Education Services, blogging about an interview with two members of their faculty fellows program. These distinguished faculty share their background with teaching online, attitudes toward online teaching, thoughts on working with instructional designers, and advice for fellow instructors just starting out with online classes. Make sure to check out the resources suggested by the faculty and the post authors!

Thank you and enjoy the read!

-Lindsey Downs

Online Learning: the New Norm

Online learning has become the new norm for universities and colleges. However, faculty attitudes around teaching online can vary significantly, with some faculty showing great interest in making the transition to the online teaching modality and others feeling more skeptical.

We spoke with two members of the Wiley Faculty Fellows initiative, a select group of distinguished faculty from the network of Wiley Education Services’ partner universities, about their own experiences teaching in the online classroom. The Faculty Fellows group is focused on innovative teaching and learning and has helped advance new pedagogical and technological approaches at their own institutions. In speaking with them, our goal was to understand what factors and circumstances played a role in their enthusiasm for online education so that other higher education administrators can foster a similar environment for their faculty, thus increasing the overall success of their online learning offerings.

Q: Give us some background on yourself and your history with online learning.

Dr. Polly Smith: I am the Associate Provost for Online Learning at Utica College, managing 22 fully online programs. I have 12 years of online teaching experience. I teach a variety of sociology classes online and previously directed a master’s of liberal studies online.

Dr. Ray Klump: I am a professor and chair of computer and mathematical sciences at Lewis University. I have taught at Lewis since 2001.

I began teaching in a hybrid format to supplement my face-to-face classes with online enhancements, but I officially started teaching online in 2009. That’s when I had the opportunity to work with a Wiley Education Services’ instructional designer and a team that would provide guidance on the tools I should use online, how to transition course curriculum for online consumption, how to set learning outcomes, and how to measure them more effectively.chalk board with words in chalk including online, degree, education, course, academics

Attitudes Toward Teaching Online

Q: You both have a long history with online education. What was your attitude when you first started teaching online and what do you think of it now? What impacted those feelings?

Dr. Polly Smith: At first I was very skeptical. My background is in secondary education and I thought that a traditional on-ground classroom was the best and only way to present content, achieve learning outcomes, and reach my goals as a teacher. But when I was first asked to teach a course online, I agreed because I’m a believer in the fact that you can’t knock something until you try it.

I began teaching online believing that I could do exactly what I did in the on-ground classroom, but that didn’t work. What I know now that I wish I had known at the beginning is that online education is not the same as teaching in a traditional classroom. The objectives are the same, the outcomes should be the same, but the way you deliver content is completely different.

As part of this realization, I learned that having the support of an instructional designer, who knows more about the technology and the techniques that work better in the online space, is perfectly okay! I am the content expert, but the instructional designer is the expert in the technology, the best way to lead a discussion, the types of learning activities you can use, and the best ways to do group work in an online setting. By working with an instructional designer, I am able to deliver my own content and curriculum in the most effective ways online. My experience would be very different without this support.

Dr. Ray Klump: As a computer scientist, I embrace technology and therefore had no fears about teaching online. I am always looking for new techniques and tools to keep things fresh and exciting in the classroom.

Teaching online has brought me a better sense of organization, which also carries into my face-to-face classes. I understand how to organize and structure a course to ensure that students are on the same page with me, that they know what’s expected of them, and that they can better chart their progress toward the end goals.

I believe I now have a clearer vision because I was forced to create a very clear picture of where students would be going as they continued through the course, which isn’t something that I had thought of doing when I started out teaching – online or on-ground. College students sitting in a lose circle, all on a tablet or phone device.Teaching online in partnership with an instructional designer has helped me create a very clearly articulated course map. And that, perhaps, is the biggest benefit that I have received from teaching online.

Working with Course Designers

Q: So you both worked closely with instructional designers for online course design. What was it like working with someone else to design your courses?

Dr. Polly Smith: As someone with a PhD who takes their content very seriously and believes that they are the expert, adjusting to working with an instructional designer was a challenge because I believed I had my course objectives and content delivery all figured out. I thought I could work with the students and could easily communicate my curriculum in the online space without changing my approaches. But it doesn’t work that way because the online environment is very different!

Instructional designers help you develop measurable course and module learning objectives, and then aid in determining how to best communicate that content in the online space. Their job is to identify and combine what’s comfortable for the faculty member, which is likely content or delivery methods that are more common to the traditional classroom, and adapt that to the new online space. You will witness the payoff of working with an instructional designer when you see your students respond to these new techniques and technology.

Dr. Ray Klump: It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to work with an instructional designer because they provide the guidance for how best to convey the material. Although the instructional designer doesn’t know the material, they certainly do understand how to make things clear and can recommend the right technologies, tools, and approaches that can make difficult material comprehensible to students online. This is helpful because, as a subject matter expert, I might not necessarily know where I’m being less clear or where students might need additional support.

An instructional designer is agnostic to the material, which means they are looking at it purely through the lens of a student who needs to understand. I think that’s very helpful. The instructional designer is there to provide guidance and to lend their very seasoned opinion on how best to convey the material and assess outcomes. And at a time when universities are being asked to focus more methodically on assessment than they used to because there is a lot external reporting that needs to be done, this collaboration is essential.

Q: Has what you have learned teaching and designing courses online informed your on-ground teaching?

Dr. Ray Klump: Teaching online has made me ten times the face-to-face instructor that I used to be, primarily due to the higher focus on organization and assessment. I used to believe that setting student learning outcomes, writing up the rubrics, and judging every assignment that came to you with a rubric would suck the joy out of teaching. But to be an effective online teacher, my instructional designer stressed that I needed to implement an organized assessment approach and I have found that has made me a much more effective instructor, both online and on-ground.

Words of Advice for Online Faculty

Q: All in all, what messages or words of advice would you share with a faculty member who is new to or highly skeptical of teaching online?

Dr. Polly Smith: If I were talking to a faculty member who was new to online teaching or still hesitant to try it, I would tell them to first take advantage of an instructional designer for support – that will save hours of frustration and improve the overall delivery of content online. They will help you communicate your ideas better in the online space, and that leads to far more satisfying instruction.

Next I would tell them that students want to interact with their instructor, they want to feel like they are important. When planning an online course, a professor needs to make sure that they have a plan for how they will communicate with students. Community in an online course does not automatically exist, but in my mind it is the key to the success of the online learning experience.

Implementing the support resources mentioned by Dr. Polly Smith and Ray Klump above for your institution’s online initiatives could help increase the effectiveness and satisfaction of your online faculty. For more online teaching tips, visit the Wiley Education Services’ blog.   

Dr. Polly Smith headshot, image of blond woman smiling in an academic conference room.
Dr. Polly Smith
Associate Provost for Online Learning, Professor
Utica College



Dr. Ray Klump headshot, image of man with glasses smiling in front of office bookcase
Dr. Ray Klump
Chair of Computer and Mathematical Sciences,
Professor Lewis University



Interview conducted and written by:

  • Carey Dempsey,  Senior Corporate Brand Manager, Wiley Education Services
  • Kelly Lewis-Pratl, Director of Market Strategy & Development, Wiley Education Services

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Chalkboard Photo credit: Bluefied College

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