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[Case Study] Baker College: Addressing Student Barriers to Higher Education

Baker College Campus
Baker College Stats

The Challenge: Declining Enrollment & Retention

Baker College has been putting students first for over a century. Today, the College serves thousands of students on multiple campuses throughout the state of Michigan as well as across the United States via its global campus. 

Like the majority of higher ed institutions around the country, Baker College felt the impact of shrinking student enrollment and declining retention rates. Nationally, total undergraduate enrollment peaked in 2010, at around 18.1 million students and declined to 16.6 million over the past ten years. The overall dropout rate for undergraduate college students is 40%.

While tuition has steadily increased since the early '90s, a college education remains one of best investments a person can make. According to a recent report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, students that persist and earn a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $1.2 million more than the median wage for workers who have a high school diploma. Regardless of the long-term value, many students struggle with the cost of attending college. It is no surprise that the top reason students leave college before completing their degree is financial challenges.

College completion offers a path toward long-term economic mobility and security. The last thing we want is for financial challenges to prevent a student from finishing their degree.
Dr. Jill Langen, Provost | Baker College

Among Baker College's foundational principles are to adapt and change to environmental conditions by implementing deliberate strategic initiatives. Baker is also committed to being accessible and to continuous improvement of its programs, student outcomes, and services. With these principles in mind, the leadership at Baker College knew the competitive higher ed marketplace would require creativity to address ways to attract, engage, retain, and graduate more students.

“Baker College has remained successful over the last century by continually adapting to the evolving educational landscape and changing needs and expectations of our students,” said Dr. Langen. “Baker, for example, was one of the first colleges to pursue the concept of online education.”

The Solution: Alleviating “Pain Points” for Students

One of the College’s key strategic initiatives was to create more pathways that successfully engage students by partnering with alternative credit provider StraighterLine. This partnership allows Baker College to provide students with a way to reduce tuition costs and accelerate degree completion while maintaining a quality learning environment.

Baker College’s partnership with StraighterLine addresses several common “pain points” faced by students:

  1. Completing prerequisite courses required for Limited Enrollment or cohort programs. Baker College is increasing student access and opportunities by providing students the option to take prerequisites for eligibility that are 100% online, asynchronous courses. It also directly supports the College’s funnel for transfer students.
  2. Engaging in academic courses when they are ready, in turn reducing “melt” in between terms. Students now have the ability to start classes when it best suits their schedule instead of needing to wait for the start of a term. The result is students can immediately start building skills and confidence while progressing toward their degree. 
  3. Identifying a way to earn their degree more quickly and less expensively. Baker College wanted to find a way for students to reduce the cost of college by providing a faster, less expensive path to “crossing the stage” and earning their degree.
  4. Determining college readiness with low-cost, low-risk options. StraighterLine only transcripts successful course completion, so Baker College is able to offer its students a risk-free, low-cost way to see if they are ready to pursue higher education. A wider diversity of students are provided an opportunity at no risk to them or to the institution.

The Implementation: Led by Academics

Students in Classroom

StraighterLine offers its partner schools over 60 ACE-approved, competency-based general education courses. Schools drive all the academic decisions and determine which courses the institution will make available to its students.

Academic leadership at Baker College led the course review, selection, and feedback, starting with the Provost and Deans closely assessing the quality of StraighterLine’s curricula and resources. The assessment criteria included determining if courses provide clearly stated, rigorous, and appropriate outcomes that align with the College’s own offerings. Also evaluated was course outcome alignment to appropriate, rigorous assessments.

Baker College also examined what support services – and the ease of use and access to those services – StraighterLine provides to help ensure students would succeed. The foundation of the StraighterLine solution is wraparound student support, including 24/7 on-demand live tutoring and writing help led by subject matter experts.

Once the StraighterLine courses were implemented, Baker College’s Deputy Chief of Student Affairs and Academic Advisors began providing feedback and input into the success of each course.

Baker students enrolled
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SL courses taken
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The Impact: Assessing Success

Since Baker College launched its partnership with StraighterLine in November 2016, over 1,120 students have enrolled taking a total of 2,584 StraighterLine courses. Students return to Baker College at a rate of 91%.

Assessing the success of the partnership needs to be considered from both the perspective of the students and the College. "Our primary goal is student success and we can't lose sight of that," said Dr. Langen.

“Has the partnership been a success? That is a resounding yes."

Dr. Jill Langen, Provost | Baker College

The data shows Baker College is positively alleviating its identified “pain points” for students:

  1. Among the top ten StraighterLine courses that students transfer to the College are Introduction to Nutrition, Anatomy & Physiology, and Microbiology, so offering an alternative way to complete prerequisites is fulfilling a student need.
  2. Common general education courses that students elect to take prior to enrolling at Baker College are College Algebra, Introduction to Statistics, and Business Statistics, which are among the top ten StraighterLine courses transferred to the College. Baker College also sees a reduction in “melt” between the terms with 91% of students transferring their StraighterLine course credit to the College.
  3. Of the Baker College students taking StraighterLine courses, the majority take more than one course: 27% take three to four courses and another 27% take five or more. Students are leveraging academic resources available to them to reduce the cost and graduate more quickly.
  4. Baker College has determined there is no difference between the success of students in the College’s internal Fast Track programs versus those taking StraighterLine courses.

“At StraighterLine, we believe that education is not an end in itself, but is a means of helping learners succeed on a pathway to employability and career success,” said Dr. Amy Smith, Chief Learning Officer of StraighterLine. “We are thrilled our long-standing partnership with Baker provides valuable courses that help students complete their degree by increasing their ability to take the classes they need on their own schedule while also saving money in the process.”

From the College’s perspective, partnering with StraighterLine has been impactful not only for its students, but also the institution. The College’s Deans annually identify and select potential new course offerings, with the list continuing to grow. Currently, Baker College offers its students 50 StraighterLine courses.