Ideas for Change

We’ve had some time to gripe and complain a bit, so let’s get down to business.  What ideas do we have to change the way WGU operates, so we can all be happy (or at least happier)?  I’ll start off with some ideas I’ve heard kicked around at the water cooler.  If I have misrepresented your idea, please feel free to correct me.  If you think the ideas are stupid, crazy, impossible, whatever – you must supply not only a reason why, but another alternative solution.  Here we go.

1) Phased disbursement – This is not an original idea, the US Dept of Ed suggested it.  This approach would make financial aid overages available at specific points throughout the term, such as at the end of months 2, 4 and 6.  The idea is to stop (or slow down) the students that grab the money and run, never to be seen or heard from again.  I would also like to suggest that we couple this with a requirement that to get the money, students must show some sort of progress – passing an exam, submitting some (or all) of the course tasks, etc.

2) Pay back  for non attempts – This approach would make students pay back the financial aid they received if they do not “significantly” attempt a course by the end of the term.  They would not be able to continue to another term unless they made payment or were set up on a payment plan.  This happens at more traditional schools when a student drops below full-time.  They get a bill from the university to pay back the financial aid money – no payment plan or payment in full – no more enrollment.  So, this does not apply to students that actually try/attempt a course, but fail it.  This applies to students that DO NOT use the LRs, DO NOT attend webinars or chats, DO NOT meet with Course Mentors, and DO NOT attempt to turn in a task or sit for an exam.  It would also “catch” those students that term-after-term only do 66.67%.

3) Streamlined reporting – This would be a way for everyone at WGU (enrollment, financial aid, mentors, etc) to report suspected financial aid fraud.  A trigger for a mentor might be a student saying “I’ve reached 66.67% SAP, I’m not going to do anymore”.  They enrolled for a full-time load and when they say they do not plan to do a full-time load – that’s fraud.  A trigger for financial aid might be when  student calls and asks “What happens to my financial aid if I don’t complete all my courses”.  The report of such incidences needs to be tracked and FOLLOWED UP ON by a team made up of a representatives from management, mentoring, financial aid, enrollment, etc.  The entire university needs to know we have a ZERO tolerance for fraud.  This should be a metric that is reported quarterly to all staff (i.e. “We have investigated 201 instances of financial aid fraud.  We have turned 10 cases over to the Dept of Ed. We have handled 156 cases internally.”, – you get the idea).

OK, that’s enough of my ideas (and the ones I’ve stolen from others).  Let me hear from you!

Bob – if you’re working on an idea for change, now would be a good time to float it out here.   Maybe Jenny should comment?

Remember everyone, if you don’t like the idea you must outline “why” you don’t like the idea and you must supply an alternative.  No “that is stupid” or “that sucks” will be tolerated 🙂  I expect more from you than that!

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23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sam on January 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    How about a post regarding OTP and the double standard we are held to versus what the student is held to?

    Reply

    • You won’t get an argument here!!! I was hoping that the ideas that ties “getting paid” to them doing work might alleviate some of that disparity. But I guess my idea was rooted in the assumption the students NOT reaching OTP were doing so on purpose. They were either the financial aid gamers/scammers (staying the 18 months until we finally turn off the financial aid faucet) OR they were the financial aid surfers (those doing only 66.67% because that is all that is required). If we stop those groups of students from getting money (without performing), what part of your load would disappear or change (to OTP)? I assumed a big part of my load. But, I need to hear from you all on this. Would it change our students reaching OTP if they were forced to immediately pay back a portion of their financial aid because they didn’t reach it? Remember -I’m not talking about payback for those students that engaged and failed, I’m talking about those students that term after term reach 66.6% and stop working. Would we lose students because they are just unable (for various reasons) to complete 12 CUs in one term?

      OK, so I need further clarification/thoughts from you all on this issue because Sam is 100% correct – holding the students to one metric and punishing the mentors when they don’t achieve a different metric is ridiculous. Sam, what metric do you recommend? Should we keep it at SAP? What if we make changes that penalize students for only achieving SAP? What would we do then? I am completely open here! Any and all please reply.

      Reply

      • Posted by Sam on January 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        I personally think it should be left at SAP…if I was a student I would be asking why I have to have a certain assessment completed by a particular date when I am told by enrollment counselors that WGU is a flexible online university and I can work at my own pace. I understand about setting deadlines and all, but if a student has six months to complete x amount of assessments as long as it adds up to 12 units then I shouldn’t be penalized if they miss a completion date as long as they stay above SAP and complete their assessments at the end of the six months.

        Also as a student mentor I should not be penalized if a student is footing their own bill and does not complete any assessments. I have a few that pay out of pocket and their SAP is so low there’s no chance of ever being above 67%, but those students are lumped into my numbers and I’m held accountable for them…

      • You bring up a really good issue with self-paying students. I have heard stories of self-pay students that complete maybe one or two courses a term, for years. There is no incentive to do more because they are not held to the SAP standard. I would like to suggest however, that they are NOT full-time students, as required by WGU (12 CU min.). Other universities consider these “Non-Degree Seeking” students – they are not on the path to graduation, they dabble in courses – a few a year. What if we created a category of students like this? Self-paying, not advancing in a full-time capacity. These students would not count against mentors because they are not full-time degree seeking students.

        I believe in our “quest” to have all “full-time” students we have missed what is actually happening! 40+ percent of our students are NOT attending in a full-time capacity!!! We need separate paths or categories for those students consistently unable to maintain a full-time load. What do you think Sam? Anyone else?

      • Posted by Richard on January 24, 2012 at 1:24 pm

        As long as the money is coming in WGU doesn’t care….if a student can pay out of pocket and continue attending WGU but never finishing their degree they will continue taking their money. I remember this issue being brought up numerous times when I was at WGU and the only excuses I heard were that those students (self-pay) account for only about 10% of the population…..that’s approximately 3,000 students paying out of pocket…and $18 MILLION a year in profit potential. (3,000*$6000/yr).

        It’s all about the dollar.

      • Posted by Richard on January 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm

        Have they ever discussed part-time anymore? That was also discussed but tossed aside….I recall something about them saying the system couldn’t handle that type of thing or whatever…if their system can’t handle the concept of a part-time student what busted piece of software are they using?

    • Posted by No one on July 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      To Sam: I’m in enrollment and many of us don’t say “self-paced.” The website says that. When students say that term, I correct them and say that it’s full-time or faster. I emphasize that they HAVE TO complete 12cus or more to stay in OTP and that it’s a full-time program. We’re trying just as hard as you are. We’re held accountable for retention rate too. That being said, we’re also pressured into enrolling so many students, which is just a contradiction to what we’re told above. Enroll the ‘right’ amount of students and you’re OK – yet they drop, so you’re not OK. Enroll below the average and you’re not OK – but if they stay, then it’s OK. It’s a lose lose situation.

      Reply

  2. Posted by MAC on January 23, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I ran into the OTP double standard at an IT meeting the other day where the idea of limiting s students to 3 attempts on an assessment in a single term was introduced. Now generally, if I have a student who is encountering that much difficulty with a course and they have engaged the resource, spoken with the Course Mentor, etc., I encourage them to take a break, move onto something else, get a taste of success. However, this policy tells us that if a student runs into a particularly challenging course, we can pretty much kiss the OTP metric goodbye, unless we can somehow scramble to find some other “filler” course to make up for the missing credits.

    Reply

    • Posted by Sam on January 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      So then this filler course if they don’t pass it then it drives the percentage even lower? Stacking the deck basically.

      Reply

    • Another great example! When students begin to encounter some of the more difficult assessments in their program, many are unable to complete the required 12 CUs. How are we going to handle this as university?? Punish the mentors? I’m really struggling to see the logic in that route.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Ted on January 24, 2012 at 12:16 am

    What? no.

    Reply

  4. Posted by MAC on January 24, 2012 at 2:20 am

    I am in complete agreement with some of the ideas fedup has presented. And they may even improve some of the metrics by which student mentors are measured. As has been discussed, the overage check represents a pretty big carrot. I believe that the implementation of phased disbursements might even facilitate that oh-so-important fast start number that we keep hearing about. Requiring students to pay back courses they did not attempt will definitely be a bump to OTP. Unfortunately the metric that will take the hit is retention.

    Ah, the pitfalls of running education as a (non-profit) business.

    Reply

    • LOL! You summed that situation so eloquently! I’m, however, not too worried about the retention because I’m guessing those individuals that never planned on graduating will be the major part of the exodus (as they should be). We can’t keep students that are scamming and surfing the system, just to keep our retention high. I think we would rather have lower enrollment with students actually focused on learning and ultimately graduating.

      Reply

  5. Posted by johnnymoney on January 24, 2012 at 4:58 am

    yes, yes and yes to all recommended ideas for change as it relates to Financial aid ….please Bob and Chris and Jenny and Stacey please take these ideas into consideration and begin to implement them. I would have no trouble with OTP then . I know I could meet that KPI in front of us with these changes. Not unlikely then that 61% or more of the students will complete 12 or more units per 6 mos term. If the 2015 goal is 80% OTP – well then unless some of these changes get implemented, there is no way that goal will be met. I get that non for profit means that WGU is tax exempt…but really, I know how important the revenue stream is – non for profit or not. I get that I would not have job or benefits or would be able to provide for my family (with my wifes salary of the same amount) if there were no students (and or federal govt) paying the the tuition to attend here … but we HAVE to weed out the students who are not really here to earn a degree….and it is a lot… (maybe that is why this site depicts nice green, lush grass…the weeding out has happened in the ideal) and it takes away from the full job satisfaction that I get from assisting the students who are really here to EARN a degree…those students I am parntering with and setting goals with and time mgt goals and putitng together graduation plans so that they earn their degree to start a vital job search or get promoted etc. I used to sell cars and timeshares back in the 80’s getting myself through college and well, getting 61% or more of the students that I have been assigned to support to 100% OPT is a much harder job than those 2 jobs combined and the only thing we talk about is KPIs. I got into educaiton over 10 years ago for a reason and the only thing that is ever discussed here (at the student mentor level) is the KPIs and what can we do to get students to 100% OTP the stuff of “education” is not really a core of my job…meeting my KPIs are the focus…I would have to really aruge that I am FACULTY – I am not. I am a sales person first and service person second but I am not FACULTY of a Unveristy. The COS mentors arguably are…but not the student mentor role. I get that we have to be called Faculty so that we meet the Feds Fin Aid rules…just because I label something does not make it so….

    Reply

  6. Johnny – Thanks for joining us! I may be optimistic, but I too think if we address these issues of fraud, that the number of students completing 12 CUs will go up!

    I think I need to clarify my idea of “fraud” because I notice many of my peers stop short of saying the word.

    I consider a student that accepts federal financial aid, term-after-term, for a full-time course load, yet consistently only completes a portion of the courses to be acting fraudulently. They are knowingly taking money from the American taxpayer and not delivering the “agreed upon” goods.

    I do not consider it fraud when a student has a “proven” life crisis -cancer, death of spouse, parent, child, etc. These are “one term” issues, not something that happens term after term.

    I too understand that WGU needs a revenue stream. BUT I think we are kidding ourselves if we think the American public will not find out about this fraud and waste! When that happens be assured that the revenue stream will quickly dry up because WGU will lose their ability to administer federal financial aid!! Then we’ll all be out of jobs because more than 70% of our students use some sort of federal financial aid.

    I believe if we make significant change and make it soon, two very important things will happen – 1) WGU won’t have a “show down” with the US Dept of Ed and 2) we’ll have a much better place to work!

    Reply

    • Posted by Richard on January 24, 2012 at 6:21 pm

      Fedup,

      This would apply to any college though..if I took a full 15 credit load at BYU and got a student loan for it, the government doesn’t care if I finish all 15 credits or not….all they care about is getting their loan back when it comes due for payment. All BYU would care about is your good standing as a student, and then if you’re not in good standing then suspending you from financial aid and the college….it’s pretty much the same at WGU if the student doesn’t make cumulative SAP two terms in a row they are suspended from any financial aid.

      Now are you referring to students who are already suspended from financial aid and then have it reinstated by WGU?

      Reply

      • Richard – Excellent example! I forgot to address this very important instance! I think we need to separate the students that don’t attempt the course from those that try and fail. In a traditional setting, if you sign up for 4 courses and fail one, you are not required to pay back your loan – you just take the hit in your GPA. However, in a traditional setting if you sign up for 4 courses and drop one late in the term (do not attempt it) then you are considered a part-time student. In most instances, the university will make the student pay back the financial aid they received for the dropped course. I’ve been checking many traditional (and online) universities handbooks and they all appear to have similar policies.

        So, when I’m talking about fraud, I’m talking about students that each term only get to 66.67% SAP and stop working because WGU policies do not require them to do otherwise. I cannot find another university that allows you each term to collect financial aid for a full-time course load, but then to drop to a part-time course load (every term).

      • Posted by Richard on January 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm

        Ah ok..that explains it better. Thank you!

  7. Posted by Monte on January 25, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Oh, but if you tell those students that they could save thousands of dollars if they complete 100% each term, they would get right on it. That is the statement were were given by those those who manage the University, the same individuals who have never mentored a student past a year or ever for that matter.
    I would prefer that they hold the student to 100% SAP to be in good standing and keep financial aid. At least then as a mentor we have something to back our requests to complete all the work. Instead we have the distinct pleasure to beg the students to pass there courses, and mention to them that our job depends on it. That is top quality business right there. Who came up with that model? That is called “the destined to fail model”?
    As we have witnessed on countless occasions, things are introduced that affect the mentor, with obviously no research and development put forth, and we are expected to carry out the brilliant idea, to our own demise! Again, excellent business model!
    I could list a number of failed ideas, that were doomed from the get go, but I will spare you all the list!
    OTP will be next, because when it comes time for bonuses, the powers that be will figure out a way to change the way they calculate it, so the bonuses can be paid out. Just like they changed the term SAP Calculation to Cumulative SAP, when we were not where we needed to be to reach the goals.
    So my idea to improve here at WGU –
    Quit ignoring those who do the job! We continually here that we are listened to and that they do take what we say into account. That is funny, because last time I checked there isn’t a single mentor at the University who is involved in the conversations that take place, we are just notified of what will happen, and then asked what we think even when we know it will be implemented despite our comments.
    Stop trying to turn mentoring into a call center mentality. That doesn’t help the students succeed.
    Get rid of OTP, unless you are willing to live with the fact that the numbers are what they are, and the odds of them improving aren’t high. Last time I checked, overall OTP is down from when it was implemented, and SAP has decreased with it.
    Stop saying you want to be transparent, when we all know the things that go on around the University , as well as the statistics are not always accurate and definitely are not transparent.
    I will stop now, but i could continue on for hours.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Jawabi on February 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    The issue of trust and competency is a big one for me. I have been around WGU since 2004 and do not trust those in upper management when they tell me things. I also do not believe that there is a great deal of competence in these same individuals. I have seen too many things happen that tell me that there is a serious ethical problem here.

    Also, when I started, we were faculty. Now Student Mentors are call center agents. I’m hanging in there for awhile but doubt that I can do this much longer. I literally hate pressuring students to get their work done when they chose not to do so or, in some cases, simply cannot do so. Yet, I do so because I am punished if they fail – is that not backward?

    Reply

  9. Posted by Barney Fife on April 10, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Guess what, each of your replies is being tracked. Go figure the consequence.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Milton on July 5, 2012 at 4:29 am

    Tracked only of you post from your WGU laptop….don’t post from it.

    Reply

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