WGU Academy: Personalizing Onramps to Postsecondary Education with Proven Success for Underserved Students

OCTOBER 28, 2021 | 9:50-10:20

Presented By:

Dr. Angie Besendorfer, Dr. Reshma Gouravajhala, Dr. Omid Fotuhi

Session Description:

Academic and psychological barriers too often keep prospective students, especially those from historically underserved populations, from being accepted—or even seeking admission—into the postsecondary programs that could change their lives. That’s why WGU Academy was created—to tackle the problem head-on. Academy is built to prepare students for college success.

The program aimed primarily towards adult learners with low academic preparation, focuses on building a strong foundation of social-emotional learning to prepare its students for academic and career success. As in some other college-readiness programs, Academy students earn college credits by completing online coursework in an asynchronous manner at a flexible pace.

In order to graduate from Academy, students must complete a seven-week intensive Program for Academic and Career Advancement (PACA), where they engage in facilitated synchronous Zoom sessions with a diverse cohort of peers. Within PACA, students are given extensive training on both the theory and the application of key constructs like emotional intelligence, self-efficacy, effort regulation, empathy, collaboration and teamwork, and goal-setting. Students are also provided additional support and structure through engagement in personalized individual coaching sessions.

Academy graduates have significantly higher odds of satisfying first-term collegiate academic progress requirements in their subsequent bachelor’s degree programs relative to students who never attended Academy. Critically, these findings hold true when focusing on particularly at-risk groups: students of color and first-generation students. In other words, Academy graduates of color and Academy first-generation graduates both achieved the minimum first-term academic progress requirements at significantly higher rates than their counterparts who did not attend Academy. These findings suggest that Academy’s approach – providing students the tools to increase their self-efficacy and improve their emotional intelligence through PACA and personalized coaching while helping them navigate the rigorous curriculum – appears to be conferring benefits to a diverse and inclusive student population.

Video & Transcript:

Dr. Angie Besendorfer


WGU Missouri

Dr. Reshma Gouravajhala

Research Scientist

WGU Academy

Dr. Omid Fotuhi

Director of Learning Innovation

WGU Labs