Taking Online Education to a New Level - Higher Education

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Taking Online Education to a New Level


by Molly Nance

Tiffin University is pioneering the way with a new online 20-month degree program that guarantees students admission to a four-year institution.


Entering a four-year university just got more attainable, thanks to a new approach to online learning at Tiffin University. Administrators and professors at the Ohio-based university are taking the concept of online education to a new level: creating Ivy Bridge College, which offers an associate degree for general studies and guarantee admission to select four-year institutions for successful students.

Although students are earning two-year degrees online at other universities and colleges, many of these degrees prepare the student for a vocational track in areas such as criminal justice, paralegal studies and medical administration, among others.

“Obviously there are a lot of associate degrees that are career oriented,” says Dr. Paul Marion, president of Tiffin University. “But there are not that many associate degrees in general studies. So we did some market research and found that there are a number of people around the country who did indicate an interest of an online format for their first few years of college.”

The university’s research concluded that students who were recent high school graduates, or lived in remote locations hours away from a two- or four-year university, or had family obligations at home, would benefit from earning a degree online.

Last year, Marion and his team at Tiffin University conceptualized Ivy Bridge College with these students in mind. With a student/teacher ratio of 16 to 1, 35 students were enrolled in the first semester, last fall. Enrollment increased almost 50 percent, with a current enrollment of 59 students for the spring semester.

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The student population is composed of mostly women, with a 69 percent enrollment. Eighteen percent of the students are Black; 18 percent Hispanic; 3 percent American Indian; and 55 percent are White.

In order to build a strong foundation for the program, uphold high student retention and graduation rates, Ivy Bridge College matches every student with a success coach. The college has partnered with InsideTrack, a San Francisco-based company that has provided personalized student coaching services since 2001.

“A lot of these students would be 18 or 19 years old, so knowing that many of these students were right out of high school, we felt giving them as much personal attention and support system as possible would be useful,” Marion says.

That personal attention and support is something that is not consistent at many of the students’ homes, says Dr. Cam Cruickshank, vice president for enrollment management at Tiffin University.

“Students on the Tiffin campus receive more parental support and strong emotional support, but the students in at Ivy Bridge get less of that support, so that is where the success coaches come in.”

Colin Harvey, a success coach at InsideTrack, initially saw results from his work with the students at the beginning of the first semester.

“Some of their initial goals are happening,” says Harvey, who speaks with his students weekly. “They are building the strong foundation of balancing work, school and family while still having a social life.”

But throughout the first semester, it was noted that change had to be made.

“We got feedback from students and their success coaches that it was hard to multitask (school, work and home obligations),” says Cruickshank. “There were lots of lessons learned; we are getting better; and [we are] able to help these students.”

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So Ivy Bridge has modified the structure of the semester, from a 14-week term, where students took between four and five classes at a time, to two seven-week terms. Now students can take fewer classes in a shorter amount of time.
Students are now able to complete their assignments and coursework more efficiently at their own pace, while simultaneously managing responsibilities outside of school. 

Once students complete their 20-month degree program at Ivy Bridge College with high academic standing, they are guaranteed admission to four-year institutions such as Concord University in West Virginia, Dominican College in New York and Golden Gate University in California.

“We can say to the students on the front end, ‘if you finish your associate degree you are guaranteed admission to a four-year institution,’” says Marion. “Our expectation is that virtually any four-year institution would take these graduates the same way they would take any other associate degree graduates who want to continue onto a university.”

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