Trustees hear World Campus updates on supporting student success, enrollment

YORK, Pa. — The ways Penn State World Campus supports student success and enrollment growth and how online education can help address emerging society and industry needs were among the topics discussed during the July 21 meeting of the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development, and Community Relations.

Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education, shared updates on how World Campus is supporting student success through conversion and retention projects, supporting enrollment growth through various initiatives, and ranking nationally and among other Big Ten institutions with online portfolios.

“The growth of Penn State World Campus is dependent on the successful implementation of its strategic plan, which focuses on increasing the number of prospective students who enroll and increasing students’ success at every stage from semester to semester and to graduation,” Engel said.

Penn State World Campus offers a breadth of programs in traditional topics and emerging fields of study, with a portfolio including topics in business, health care, liberal arts, science, technology, engineering, and education. World Campus offers 38 bachelor’s degrees and seven associate degrees, 56 master’s degrees and three doctoral degrees, and 66 graduate certificates and 18 undergraduate certificates.

In the 2021–22 academic year, there were 20,940 students enrolled: 12,310 undergraduates and 8,659 graduates. Overall, the average World Campus student is 31 years old. Other notable figures include:

  • 16.8% have a military affiliation
  • 80.7% are adult learners
  • 80.5% are part-time
  • 48.9% are women
  • 5.8% are international students 

Supporting growth through conversion and retention

Two data-driven conversion and retention projects were discussed during the meeting: Redesigning the My Penn State Application (conversion) and Habits of Successful Students (retention).

Redesigning the My Penn State Application, led by the Undergraduate Admissions Office with support from World Campus resources and staff, seeks to streamline and enhance the user experience, leading to an increase in application submission rates. 

Applicants also will provide their campus preference earlier in the process, allowing World Campus staff to properly identify prospective students and assist them through the application process. 

Habits of Successful Students will provide new information about the behaviors of successful World Campus students (e.g., timing of course registration, proportion of semesters enrolled part-/full-time, consecutive semester enrollment, financial holds) and will examine how those variables are related to degree completion. This new data in relation to specific student behaviors, demographics, and other variables (e.g., household income levels) will assist with World Campus interventions and support.  

Supporting enrollment growth

World Campus also looks to support enrollment growth in several ways, including through reaching international audiences, expanding access to military learners, and offering pathways to degree programs, Engel said.

On the horizon, World Campus and Penn State Global are exploring opportunities to reach international students with blended programs that combine one year of online studies through World Campus in a student’s home country with one year of residential study at a Penn State graduate campus to enhance international enrollments and engagement both online and on campus.

Expanding access to military learners through a 1+3 program would create a path for military personnel to enroll through World Campus or a Commonwealth campus near a Pennsylvania military base in their first year. During this year, students could explore various majors and campus options while receiving intensive academic advising support and support from student aid counselors. Programming would be created to ensure their successful transition through their first year.

An additional pathway to degree completion could be using a strategy called “stackable credentials.” Using this strategy, a World Campus student would earn certificates within a degree program, essentially “stacking” multiple certificates over time that culminate in a completed degree.