Innovative Penn State program connects online students with alumni

June 20, 2016

As online education expands, more and more college and university students are completing their studies without ever setting foot on campus. That creates a challenge for higher education: How do you create lasting relationships with students whose interactions with their schools are taking place largely online?

Over the past year, Penn State World Campus, which currently has 18,000 online students, ran a pilot program to connect Penn State’s online students with its enormous alumni network. This month the pilot was awarded a Gold Circle of Excellence award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), one of the largest international associations of education institutions. Penn State is now expanding the program to other Penn State Alumni Association chapters nationwide.

“Penn State has 645,000 alumni in every state and around the world,” said Alumni Strategist Roxanne Shiels, who headed the team that ran the pilot. “That’s a tremendous resource for our online students.”

Through the pilot program, which debuted last year in San Diego, online students are “adopted” by a local chapter and included in that chapter’s events and activities. San Diego-area World Campus students were invited to join local alumni at events such as a tailgate, a networking event and a holiday party. The chapter also awarded scholarships to World Campus students.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. At a fall celebration traditionally held for students leaving for Pennsylvania, online students responded at a higher rate than face-to-face students.

David Strausser, a World Campus business student and scholarship recipient, said the interactions with alumni and other students have made him feel more a part of the Penn State family and have given him connections that this year helped him get a better job.

“Creating these bonds doesn’t just benefit the alumni organization or the institution,” Shiels said. “Research shows that adult students who are at risk of dropping out are more likely to stay in school when someone is encouraging them.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 20, 2016