Can the addition of a single online course increase programmatic enrollment, bolster student outcomes and increase faculty efficiency? The answer is yes–and the proof was offered in an April 5, 2017 Collegis Education webinar hosted by University of North Alabama (UNA) MBA Curriculum Coordinator Steve Taylor, Ph.D., and Collegis Education Vice President of Digital Content Solutions David Lungren.

The idea for the course came out of an analysis of the students who had applied to the MBA program. The analysis looked at students who were directed to complete prerequisite courses at local community colleges, students who enrolled, and students who essentially fell off the radar. Insights generated by the analysis included the following.

First, most of the students who did not qualify for the program were lacking a business degree or business experience. These students were usually encouraged to take prerequisites courses at a community college. Upon completing the prerequisites, the students were qualified to begin their MBA courses, but UNA found that once students were directed to seek prerequisite courses elsewhere, they rarely returned.

Second, a high percentage of students who were admitted were failing to register for classes. Third, it was found that although the MBA program was designed to be a broad degree for people with or without an undergraduate degree in business, the majority of its enrolled students had a bachelor’s of business administration. As a result, MBA program leaders began looking for a way to harness prospective student interest by taking ownership of prerequisite course offerings.

The Content Solution

Meanwhile, Collegis Education had online content from its module library just waiting for a program-specific overlay. UNA and Collegis realized that, together, they had the makings of a nearly complete prerequisite course. By blending UNA faculty content with the Collegis modules, the two organizations were able to create a new four-credit foundational course that replaced the need for prerequisites and at the same time could be taken for academic credit. What’s more, they were able to create and launch the course within just a few months.

UNA decided to require all incoming MBA students to complete the course as a first step before taking any other courses. The four-credit course contains seven modules, covering accounting, business information systems, economics, finance, management, marketing and quantitative analysis.  The content of the modules is a combination of original material developed by UNA faculty and materials from the Collegis library. The course is offered online only and functions in a largely self-paced fashion, although there are some deadlines that provide structure and incentives to the students.

Course Administrator Plays Crucial Role

Taylor administers as the instructor of record for the course. He shared a couple of insights into how both students and faculty benefit from the course. For instance, both groups benefit from the triaging of student requests for help, which works as follows. Taylor, the course administrator, manages all student progress through the duration of the course. All questions are first sent to him. In many cases, the questions have more to do with password resets or course functionality. By screening these questions, the faculty in each discipline are freed of having to spend time on questions that are not content related.

But students have other resources as well. There is a discussion board for each module in the course that allows students to help each other. If a student asks for help with a concept, another student can help, which is a useful way of learning in itself. This also builds relationships and camaraderie among the students.

But if the student still has questions about a concept, the faculty course administrator can connect the student with a correlating faculty expert. This way, accounting questions go to accounting faculty, management questions go to faculty who specialize in management, and so on. Under this system, students get the answers they need, while faculty are less likely to get buried under questions that would be better answered elsewhere.

Another benefit is that Taylor can monitor how frequently students log into the course. When he notices that a student has not logged in for a week or two, he reaches out to find out how they’re doing. This intervention, he says, helps students stay on track.

Enrollment Growth: 100 Percent

Outcomes included an overall enrollment growth of 100 percent for the program. Research shows a positive correlation between prerequisite learning taken immediately before the MBA program start and student success in the next course.¹ Indeed, student response has been overwhelmingly positive. While many comment that they’ve never gone through such a challenging course before, they also say the course was worth the investment of time and money.

Another issue raised by Taylor during the webinar was that non-credit prerequisite courses do not meet the criteria required by most employer tuition-reimbursement programs. Because students have that upfront expense of paying for a prerequisite course, many rule out an MBA as an academic goal.

However, since the UNA foundational course is part of the overall MBA curriculum many students were able to collect tuition reimbursement for it. Not only was the initial financial burden lightened, but students saw the value of being able to earn credits toward their end goal, an MBA, from the start.

A One-Course Investment for the University

Another unusual outcome of the partnership was the way UNA and Collegis collaborated to create a stand-alone online course. Many schools have invested in online programming with the goal of bringing an entire degree program online. UNA, however, was able to buy only what it needed — with no long-term commitments. Collegis Education embraces this philosophy because its mission is to help colleges and universities meet their goals and continue to be, or become, healthy, viable organizations.

The creation of just one online prerequisite course led to enrollment growth, more successful students, and better use of faculty time. By being able to limit its investment to one course, UNA was able to manage its assets to create a long-term, sustainable solution that worked well within the scope of the school’s resources.

No one can tell the story of this prerequisite course better than our eloquent and entertaining presenter, UNA’s Steve Taylor. A recording of the webinar is available here. Please do take the time to listen as he does an excellent job of bringing the story to life. Slides from the webinar are available here.

Collegis Education offers webinars about once a quarter on topics related to higher education enrollment and marketing. Visit our webinars page for updates on future presentations.

¹Blaylock & Lacewell (2008). Assessing Prerequisites as a Measure of Success in a Principles of Finance Course. Academy of Educational Leadership journal (12)1, pp. 51-62.