It’s All About the StudentsBecky Takeda-Tinker | President, Colorado State University—Global Campus
This article is excerpted from Impacting the Future of Higher Education: Insight Into a New Model That Works for Students, Academic Institutions and America (2017).
The process of earning a college degree could be like the experience of working with your financial advisor or tax accountant.
When you meet with your accountant, you have certain expectations. The first is that the accountant will provide you with insight and expertise, so that you will have choices in how the two of you will work together to calculate and file your taxes.
The second expectation is transparency. Your accountant will review your information and provide you with the cost for completing your tax forms. Based on intermittent touch points between the accountant and you, there are rarely any surprises when the invoice arrives.
The third expectation is service. You expect that your accountant will be prompt with the delivery of your information as previously agreed. He or she will be attentive and helpful.
Finally, you expect to achieve your objectives. You don’t hire an accountant to have incomplete or inaccurate guidance. If you do get poor support, you’ll take your business elsewhere. If enough people do this, the accountant will go out of business.
Choice, transparency, service, and achievement. These are the drivers of an education at CSU- Global. And, as with any good accountant, the institution meets its students’ expectations because it knows whom it is serving. The university is not offering a four-year, sit-in-your-seat, live-in-the-dorm education to a student who is working, supporting a family, and trying to advance their career. That would be like providing life insurance advice to someone who just wants their taxes calculated and filed on time.
Changing Students, Changing Times
Gone are the days when the majority of students attend a four-year college straight out of high school. Today, 75 percent of students are what we call non-traditional or modern students.
Most people would probably love to be able to live in a dorm and attend school full time. What an idyllic environment! Students are out of their parents’ house. They have nearly unbridled freedom. They join clubs, they run associations, and maybe they have part-time jobs, all while they address their school responsibilities. This experience provides a four-to-five-year transition period for young adults to mature and grow, and to safely stretch their independence.
The non-traditional students CSU-Global serves, however, have priorities other than living on campus and going to school full time. They range in age from late teens to 65, with an average age of thirty-four. Many have children at home. Often, they are caring for older family members, as well. They are diverse; they live in every US state and territory and 54 different countries.
Nationally, 30 percent of all students are the first in their families to attend college. At CSU- Global, that number is up at 40 percent. Often, these students are trying to finish a degree that they started but didn’t complete because they ran out of time or money, or they needed to attend to family matters that derailed their earlier college attendance.
Growing numbers of today’s non-traditional college students are veterans or military-affiliated, including 15 percent of CSU-Global’s student population. These students served their country and held specific jobs in the military, but they need to translate their experience to civilian service and upskill to meet private industry demands. They are also older than first-time college students.
Finally, these nontraditional or modern students include lifelong learners. They understand the importance of continually updating their skills in an ever-competitive, technologically driven workforce.
Technology has sped the rate of change around the world. When I first got into higher education, I learned that, generally, degree content needed to be updated every five years to stay relevant.
However, CSU-Global faculty and its industry experts have determined degree content must be updated every twelve to twenty-four months to stay current in today’s world.
Think about how different the world was just five years ago, before the launch of Blue Apron and dinner supplies arriving at your doorstep, or Udacity and the concept of free and massively distributed learning. And think about how different it will be five years from now. Clearly, the value of a degree is continuing to shrink in time. Lifelong learning will no longer be something people do for fun—it will be what they must do for continued employment success.
Choice, Transparency, Service, and Achievement: The Pillars of Success
All of these students—those who are working and caring for their families, those who are relatively new to this country, those who have served their country, and those who are lifelong learners—share a common goal. They need on-demand access to a high-quality education that is affordable and designed to ensure their success, not only directly after graduation but throughout their careers. These are the students CSU-Global serves, and it does so by offering them the same type of service experiences they have come to expect from their other expert advisors.
At CSU-Global, students have a list of program options from which to choose, and they pick only what they want and need. If they want to take only one or two classes, they only pay for one or two classes. The university’s approach is as simple as that.
Contrast that to traditional higher education, in which students pay a set amount for a full semester, regardless of how many classes they intend to take, or how many classes they are able to take with a high degree of success. In CSU-Global’s view, this approach is like charging people for insurance advice and services, when they only wanted to get their past year’s taxes calculated and filed.
Non-traditional students need flexibility. That’s part of the reason CSU-Global starts a new 8-week term every month. Some students begin in January, aiming to complete their courses in March; others start in February, planning to finish in April. This is a huge undertaking. The university takes in hundreds of new students every month, while maintaining a focus on all its existing students, staying in contact with them, and getting them ready for the next term.
CSU-Global’s doors are always open, because its students may need to take a break and then get right back into classes. Perhaps one of their family members gets sick, or their work schedule changes.
For non-traditional adult learners in most online environments, if they disengage for four months or more, it’s very difficult for them to return. They have busy schedules, they fill those spaces of time quickly, and they may not come back to school. CSU-Global, however, has a year-round, compressed, eight-week schedule and an “every class every term” philosophy. This allows students to access classes when they feel they can successfully complete them, rather than when it might be convenient for staff and faculty to offer them.
Interestingly, the university’s data show that when students disengage, they typically don’t continue their education elsewhere. The university believes that’s even worse than having them go to another institution and not return to CSU-Global. CSU-Global knows that students come to the university fully intending to complete their academic goals, so it makes navigating the school environment as smooth as possible, allowing students to focus on their classwork. The university’s student retention rates prove that this works. Retention rates average 82 percent from the first trimester to the third trimester (from fall 2016 to winter 2016 to spring 2017).
There are some accountants who want to charge an hourly rate that will be totaled once they complete your taxes. That makes you a bit nervous about proceeding, doesn’t it?
Now, consider traditional higher education, where average tuition continues to outpace the rate of inflation. Student fees increase, and new ones are added. Students don’t know from year to year what college will cost, and there may come a time in their college career when they simply can’t afford it. The fact that 40 percent of higher education students do not complete their degrees, and that money is one of the two key reasons they disengage, indicates that cost does matter.
At CSU-Global, students know that “what they see is what they get.” Personnel in the university’s tuition planning department meet with each student when they enroll to figure out what their education will cost. For each incoming student, staff combine the information on how many credit hours the institution will accept for transfer, how many credits are needed to complete the student’s identified degree, and how much those remaining credits will cost. Then, staff talk with each student about the various options both to reduce the cost of the degree and to cover the cost. CSU-Global tuition is also guaranteed—individual students never experience a tuition increase as long as they are continuously enrolled. As previously noted, 2018 will be the university’s sixth consecutive year without a tuition increase.
Further, the university has no student fees. It doesn’t charge for student activities, career coaching, or the graduation ceremony. Students do pay for their textbooks, but CSU-Global doesn’t have a bookstore that’s a profit center, so it does everything it can to make class resources as economical as possible. It gives its students information about renting books and purchasing used books, as well as about using e-chapters and e-books. It helps students find the least expensive, most practical way for them to get the resources they need.
CSU-Global’s goal is simple. It never wants a student to have unexpected expenses that would cause them to say, “Well, I’m not going to re-enroll, because I don’t have that extra $500 this semester.” The university wants its students to graduate or complete whatever academic goals they have and be successful in the workplace, so it works within their budgets to help them do so.
Think about your tax accountant or other professional expert advisor. Why do you keep using their services? When you are pleased with the service you receive, you establish an ongoing and trusted working relationship. However, if the service is poor or inaccurate, you will find a different way to get the help you need.
CSU-Global is very clear that it exists for one reason, and one reason only—to serve its students. The university’s primary objective, reflected in its mission, is to prepare nontraditional learners for workplace success in a global marketplace through education. It does that by offering the highest-quality education paired with unsurpassed, world-class service.
This begins when a student comes to the university’s door. From the enrollment counselor to the tuition planning specialists, financial aid staff, student advisors, and class instructors, students have dedicated staff to help them enroll, budget, take courses, get extra help, and graduate or complete their academic goals.
CSU-Global students don’t have to go one place to pay, another place to choose courses, and a third place for academic advising. Staff in these departments work behind the scenes with one another to make sure all students have what they need to succeed in class and at the university. Faculty have imposed their own accountability to students and require twenty-four-hour responses to student contact, seventy-two-hour turnaround on graded assignments, and classroom check-ins five out of seven days a week. CSU-Global students also have access to free career coaching and twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week live tutoring, technical support, and access to library staff.
For more traditional students, navigating the school’s policies and processes becomes a job of its own. But CSU-Global students are working and caring for their families. Lack of time is one of the two key reasons students disengage, and these students don’t have time to be bounced from pillar to post. The university’s goal is to provide our students with the highest level of support, even as it teaches them how to navigate university policies and processes so they can do so on their own. CSU-Global considers this part of a student’s education and applicable to situations they will find in the workplace and in life.
Growing numbers of Americans with some college but no degree, $1.3 trillion in federal loan debt, and the projection that 65 percent of all jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education—all of these facts make it abundantly clear that higher education needs to become part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem.
Students at CSU-Global enroll to be successful in attainment of their personal, academic, and professional goals. In many cases, it took a lot of courage for them to return to school, so the university ensures that students have all the resources needed to complete a degree or certificate program or other academic goals. Student academic and workplace success is the university’s success, so CSU-Global measures that achievement. The university’s multipronged strategy for doing so is unique in higher education and keeps the university and its personnel accountable.
For example, CSU-Global’s spring 2017 data show that one year after graduation, 94 percent of CSU-Global 2016 alumni agree that their program helped them achieve their professional goals. That’s a far cry from the mere 6 percent of graduates nationwide who strongly agree that their education prepared them for workplace success. One-quarter of CSU-Global alumni also receive a promotion within a year of graduation, and, according to third-party credit bureau reports, their salaries have continued to rise each year since we began measuring this with the first 2012 graduating cohort.
Businesses that employ our alumni are pleased, as well. A full 98 percent of employers are satisfied, or very satisfied, with the performance of CSU-Global graduates in their employ. They rate their graduates high on the learning outcomes identified for each of the university’s degree programs; on the soft skills of written and verbal communication, problem solving, collaboration, and ethical behavior; and on use of technology, leadership, and organization and planning.
Helping Students Succeed
CSU-Global’s highest outcome is its student’s success. Each of the following chapters highlights one important way in which the university makes that success possible.
While most higher education institutions would deny it, they are in the product and service business. Faculty and staff are providing instruction and courses as the product, and assistance and support as the service. Like any service provider, if they are going to be successful in today’s dynamic environment filled with distractions and other education options, they must define what will make them successful. It is customary for many academic institutions to measure their success against one another. But if their peers are equally unsuccessful in specific areas, such as student graduation rates, then institutions that compare their own bad results to others’ equally poor performance may not understand that they have significant problems. CSU-Global rejects that line of thinking, which is why it measures itself by its own mission and goals, as highlighted in the next chapter.
This was an excerpt from Colorado State University-Global Campus President Becky Takeda-Tinker’s Impacting the Future of Higher Education: Insight Into a New Model That Works for Students, Academic Institutions and America, published in 2017.
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 Ioanna Opidee, “Supporting First-Gen College Students,” University Business, February 25, 2015, https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/supporting-first-gen-college-students.
 Jennifer Ma et al., “Trends in College Pricing 2016,” College Board, 2016, accessed July 9, 2017, https://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/2016-trends-college-pricing-web_1.pdf.
Author Perspective: Administrator