Encouraging online learners to make academic progress

Encouraging online learners to make academic progress

To support online student success, Penn State World Campus is offering scholarships to learners who commit to engaging in productive habits for degree progression.

Srdjanns74/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Online-only students, compared to their face-to-face peers, are less likely to complete a degree. Many colleges and universities are leaning into online students’ feelings of belonging to promote retention and completion, but leaders at one online campus are focusing on financial incentives.

Penn State World Campus, the online arm of Pennsylvania State university, launched the Progressive Scholarship program in 2023. The invite-only program rewards 90 students who engage in best practices with financial aid, up to $7,750 over four years.

How it works: World Campus staff select the students who will participate in the program, targeting students who have been admitted but still haven’t registered for courses.

To earn their scholarships, students must meet five requirements:

  • Meet with their adviser
  • Register for courses on time
  • Take at least six credits per semester
  • Enroll in fall and spring semesters
  • Maintain a 2.3 GPA

The list of tasks was determined by World Campus staff after researching best practices and the habits of successful learners. The office of organizational effectiveness also completed a benchmark study looking at other universities’ scholarship and graduation guarantee programs.  

Additional research shows that students who earn a greater number of credits each semester are more likely to complete their degree

If students successfully meet these goals, they earn $1,500 in scholarship dollars their first year, which increases to $1,750, $2,000 and $2,500 over the course of their four years at the institution.

Other Ways to Support Online Learners  

Some other avenues colleges and universities are investing in to support online learning include: 

Under evaluation: The pilot initiative supported 90 students, 30 in the spring 2023 semester, 30 in fall 2023 and 30 in spring 2024.

World Campus staff see the greatest challenge in launching the program as the risk of not knowing how students would respond to the incentive, explains Colleen Coudriet, director of financial aid. Over the next several years, staff will be able to review how financial aid impacted students’ behaviors and their degree completion.

Staff are currently tracking to see which students complete the requirements each semester, which will be factored into the overall program evaluation and help decide next steps.

If your student success program has a unique feature or twist, we’d like to know about it. Click here to submit.

Read More