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An online tutoring service helps a virtual college dramatically increase enrollment

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In 1999, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) in Hays, Kansas, created the Virtual College, which offers over forty online degrees. One of FHSU’s goals in launching the Virtual College was to give adult learners the opportunity to go back to school.

Within five years, student enrollment in the Virtual College more than doubled, increasing from 839 students in 1999 to 1,920 in 2004. As the distance education program rapidly grew, FHSU needed to find an effective way to support virtual students. Its goal was to offer the same high-quality services for students off campus as it did for students on campus. To that end, FHSU implemented Smarthinking, Pearson’s online tutoring service, in 2002.

Rachel Dolechek, the MBA graduate coordinator, College of Business and Entrepreneurship, includes Smarthinking in her advising process. Of the 160 to 165 MBA students in the College of Business and Entrepreneurship, approximately 100 are virtual students. When Dolechek meets with distance education students, she makes sure they know the resource is available to them, and she mentions it in a newsletter she sends out to her advisees every semester.

At times, students who are struggling come to Dolechek and say, “I don’t know what to do. Should I drop this class?” “One of the first things I ask,” Dolechek remarked, “is ‘have you tried Smarthinking?’”

Dolechek estimates that between 15 to 20 percent of the virtual MBA students in her program use the tutoring services. Within the first few weeks, they tend to realize they need extra help in a foundation course.

For students, the most helpful feature of the online tutoring service is its flexibility. Students have anywhere, anytime access and the ability to schedule live sessions when it is convenient for them, a great asset for adult learners who may be juggling family and job responsibilities along with their academic work. Students can sign up to work with particular tutors, which personalizes the experience for distance education students.

“Smarthinking’s flexibility, the ease of use, and the power of the technology have really been the key to its success.”
—Dennis King, Director of the Virtual College

The online tutoring service offers support in the key areas where students need it, another one of its main benefits. “Most of our courses can fit somewhere into the content areas,” commented Kathleen Cook, the Virtual College online student communication strategist. When there has been a class that is not covered by the service, Pearson has helped the Virtual College find a solution.

In the course of sixteen years, enrollment in the Virtual College has grown more than sevenfold, from 839 students in 1999 to 6,323 students in the fall of 2015. Dennis King, the director of the Virtual College, commented, “Many people make Fort Hays State their destination of choice because of our people of excellence and our programs of distinction. As the tremendous growth in the Virtual College demonstrates, that applies to both our distance education students and our on-campus students.” He added: Smarthinking “helped us grow the Virtual College,” since online tutoring is a service that prospective students find attractive.

Students clearly value the service. From January through August 2015, 778 tutoring sessions were held for a total of 505 hours. On an exit survey covering the period of September 2014 through September 2015, 97 percent of student respondents rated tutor feedback and the tutoring process favorably, and 96 percent said they would recommend Smarthinking to a friend.

 

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