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Increasing Opportunity For Credit-Bearing Students through Non-Traditional Divisions

The EvoLLLution | Increasing Opportunity For Credit-Bearing Students through the Extension
Self-motivated and determined, non-traditional, credit-seeking students are academic high achievers who expect to get what they pay for—but with jobs and responsibilities to balance, they need seamless support services that allow them to focus on learning.

Caught between the professional development focus of continuing education and the credit-bearing world of traditional academia, non-traditional, credit-bearing students—those seeking to pursue or complete a degree through non-traditional channels—are an often-overlooked segment of the main campus student population. In this interview, Paolo Gardinali discusses the unique position these students hold in a university’s landscape, and explains how UCSB Professional and Continuing Education (UCSB PaCE) is creating access to credit-bearing programming for non-traditional students through its innovative Open University, and leveraging its back-end system to deliver the student experience those learners expect.

To access a case study diving further into how Destiny One is supporting UCSB PaCE’s work to serve this population, please click here.

EvoLLLution (Evo): What role does UCSB PaCE play in supporting degree completion?

Paolo Gardinali (PG): While UCSB PaCE doesn’t currently have formal degree completion programs in place, it is in our immediate plans and we expect to facilitate it in two ways.

The first way is by setting up a grant program for disadvantaged students who fall out of UCSB degree programs, which enables them to enroll through PaCE and complete their degree. This opportunity would be run through our existing Open University program, which allows non-matriculated students to take classes for college credit.

The second approach is by enhancing our offerings to the wider community. This enables us to serve all the people who, for one reason or another, were not able to finish their degree in the past. Once again, we will accomplish this through our Open University program, where we can help them complete their degree at UCSB, regardless of which institution they came from.

Evo: So currently, UCSB PaCE offers students the opportunity to enroll in courses for credit, but in the future you’re going to be moving into more guided degree completion pathway programs?

PG: Correct. People have already used our Open University to earn degrees, but we haven’t advertised this opportunity in a systematic way. We are in the process of marketing this as one of the many opportunities that UCSB PaCE offers.

Our growth plan involves building out both our academic credit programs—which offer degree-directed credits that transfer to other colleges—and professional credit programs that allow people to receive professional certifications or gain certain job skills and competencies.

This is because we still want people to acquire college credits and have access to the wealth of learning that UCSB makes available to the community, but we also want to make sure that the students can acquire professional, career-enhancing skills. This is about diversifying our portfolio and offering short-term possibilities for advancement.

Evo: Why is it important for divisions like UCSB PaCE to create these credit-bearing pathways for non-traditional students?

PG: We live in a fast-paced society and a shifting job market, especially here in California and in our particular Silicon Beach market. We think that UCSB PaCE fits into the conversation in several ways.

First, by allowing students to complete degrees and increase their job prospects.

Second, by allowing students who have a degree or are in the process of getting a degree to obtain additional practical and professional competencies so that they can better compete in the job market.

Third, by connecting the local community with the university. Often, university campuses can be cities unto themselves, and we really would like our campus to be part of the surrounding community. We want to be a resource for training, learning and career opportunities for Santa Barbara—not just a place for the occasional concert or event.

Evo: Students who pursue credit-bearing offerings are a little out of the ordinary in the non-traditional space. How do the needs of credit seeking students that are enrolled in UCSB PaCE differ from those of students who are pursuing their degrees traditionally?

PG: Non-traditional students are great clients in general because they’re self-motivated and determined to get the most they can from their classes. I run statistics every year and the students that come through PaCE really do rank at the top: On average, the grade distribution is better than the traditional student GPAs.

One reason for this is that they want to get what they’re paying for. They have other challenges due to scheduling and juggling day jobs, and we try to assist them in areas like enrolling and succeeding in their classes through our robust customer service offerings.

Evo: Why is it important to make sure that they have support mechanisms from the institution to help them through administrative and bureaucratic hurdles?

PG: These are not full-time students. They might have attended college five or ten or twenty years ago and might not be up to date on how colleges work nowadays. Regardless of when they were last in a classroom, however, these learners are busy. They are professionals with lives and families and responsibilities—they do not have time to wait in line at the registrar’s office to sign up for courses and work through administrative red tape.

We offer them a different service. We have a campus inside the campus based on Destiny One, which allows them to enroll through us rather than through the larger university’s administrative system. It’s much more efficient and allows our students to access the resources offered by the university at lesser cost, and in less time.

Evo: We’ve been talking about the differences between a non-traditional, credit-seeking student and a traditional, credit-seeking student but for the most part a non-traditional division will be serving non-credit seeking students. How do the needs of the credit-seeking learners differ from the non-credit students who are enrolled in other UCSB PaCE offerings?

PG: The two populations are different. Our students seeking professional, non-credit courses are mostly local career changers or career advancers, and they come to our professional classes to acquire the skills they need for taking that next step.

In our credit-bearing offerings, we serve a number of local students alongside a large contingent of international students. These courses also attract UCSB seniors trying to complete any additional courses prior to graduation, as well as individuals who are enrolled in courses for personal enrichment. The needs of these three groups obviously differ.

Despite this, our credit and non-credit students share commonalities. Both groups are comprised of busy professionals who are determined to get the most they can out of these classes. Either they’re doing this on top of their work or they’re international scholars, who are making a significant investment of time and money to take our courses. In all cases, our students are very well motivated.

Evo: Broadly speaking, what are the expectations of these non-traditional learners in terms of what the institution will provide, not necessarily in the classroom but in terms of their experience in enrolling at UCSB PaCE?

PG: Simply put, they expect us to provide great service.

They want us to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need, to do so efficiently, and to be responsive to their needs. We try to be very responsive: We have a customer service department that’s modeled on IT services ticketing systems, which guarantees a response within one business day. That’s something that the traditional university does not and cannot provide: Traditional students actually have to stand in a line, ask a question, and they might not even get an answer. At UCSB PaCE, you can send an email to our helpdesk and get an answer within a business day. We deliver what people need and expect in terms of customer service.

We’ve modeled our classes based on demand and we constantly survey our constituency to ensure that the classes we teach are the ones that our students actually want. We deliver those classes in an efficient, cost-effective manner, with great customer support.

Evo: We’ve been talking about the student experience that you’re able to deliver to learners enrolling in UCSB PaCE. How does Destiny One help you meet the needs of UCSB PaCE’s credit-seeking students?

PG: Any continuing education department has to replicate the services provided by the main university. It has to be able to enroll students, register them for classes, market those classes and take payments. It has to have a robust financial system, the ability to build class rosters, and provide grading in a timely and accurate manner. It has to enable us to collect data and conduct institutional research.

Destiny One allows us to do all that. It’s a whole campus in a box.

To access a case study diving further into how Destiny One is supporting UCSB PaCE’s work to serve this population, please click here.

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