The Board of Regents at Arizona State University set a lofty goal: Arizona State University Online should have 20,000 students by 2020—a more than 200% increase over its current online enrollment of approximately 6,000 students.
In order to reach this goal, Arizona State Online is boosting student recruitment efforts in Arizona, the Pacific region, and a few other states, such as Illinois and Texas, that have had especially high enrollment rates. It will also be adding new degree programs to its catalog of more than 40 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, such as bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and food industry management, and a master’s degree in sustainable tourism, all of which launch this fall.
There are other things that ASU doesn’t plan to change as the online programs grow, like its top-ranked student services department, headed by Tamara Popovich. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school’s student services and technology no. 1, earning a perfect score of 100 points for its career placement assistance, live tutoring, smartphone app, and live streaming video. Popovich said she believes the level of service and attention ASU Online’s students receives is one of the things that sets the school apart from others.
Popovich said she has worked in student services both online and in-person, and believes online students can receive more personalized attention than on-campus students. ASU Online students are monitored throughout the application and enrollment process, called by staff members to make sure everything is going well for the students and given reminders of what to do next. And the monitoring doesn’t stop once students have enrolled. Students also take new student orientation online as well as a course in online learning.
”It’s a challenge to keep online students engaged, but with this, they know they’re a valued student,” she said. “We also reach out once they’re in class and ask if they need tutoring or are struggling with anything. The ones who need the help really benefit.”
For the average student – a 31-year-old working mother with some undergraduate courses but no degree and living in the Western U.S. – the extra support is welcome. Also helpful, Popovich said, is the university’s course structure. The school has six start dates per year, and two 7.5-week sessions per semester.
”We’ve found that when online students are ready (to start school,) they’re ready,” she said. “With this structure, it feels like they’re moving along faster, and most students really like that pace.”
Russ Knocke, director of marketing and communications for ASU Online, said the school has seen some exciting trends in the recent past. First of all, the ASU Online population is getting younger, for reasons they can’t yet explain. Secondly, they are seeing more out of state students than ever before. Finally, online students are performing slightly better than students in the same courses on campus.
”It’s not because the course is less demanding online, but it’s attributed to the personality of the students,” he said. “They’re more experienced and a bit more mature.”
ASU Online students are also sticking with their degree programs, persisting from one semester to the next at a level higher than 90%.
”That’s very significant in online learning when the students have so many other obligations,” he said. “And I think that’s due in part to (Popovich’s) department.”
A few other things, he said, set ASU Online apart from others, such as the university’s commitment to working with the leading private technology companies in higher education to develop and implement instructional design software. But the biggest thing he believes that sets ASU Online apart from other schools is that it is not separate from ASU’s campus.
”We are a conduit,” he said. “We’re online, but we are Arizona State University. We are not an outside entity. We are entirely ASU, entirely maroon and gold. Our online students are not second class.”
Follow Anna Schumann on Twitter @ASchumannCMN.