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Oregon State earns national honor for its ability to help online learners succeed

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Behind OSU’s award-winning approach to online student support services

By Tracy Scott

Oregon State University is one of the nation’s top-ranked providers of online education. A main reason for that distinction is because OSU offers online students the highest levels of academic support.

That claim was reinforced recently when Quality Matters — widely considered the nation’s leading authority on quality assurance for online education programs — awarded Oregon State its Online Learner Success Certification. The honor recognizes OSU for its ability to “demonstrate that their learners are achieving success at a high rate, based on external comparisons and benchmarks.”

And this success happens on a large scale, too: Oregon State served more than 15,400 students who learned exclusively online in the 2023-24 academic year.

The QM certification also honored Oregon State for articulating “a mission-driven definition of success for their learners that also meets the expectations of their external stakeholders.”

This isn’t the first time QM has recognized OSU for its efforts to promote student success. In 2019, Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s online education unit, received the Online Learner Support Certification for its commitment to providing critical student and academic services.

Marleigh Perez, the Ecampus senior director of student success, says that receiving the second certification is especially meaningful.

“Earning the Online Learner Success Certification further validates our unique approach to student success,” she says. “This is what makes the new designation so important to us. Our approach is not just about providing resources, but it’s also about understanding and meeting the unique needs of each student, which sets us apart in the field of online education.”

Perez emphasized that the submission for the Online Learner Success Certification allowed the Ecampus team to showcase alternative metrics for defining success for online learners. Rather than relying solely on traditional academic measures like grades, retention rates, and graduation statistics, OSU Ecampus benchmarks incorporate direct feedback from students on how they qualitatively view their success.

For example, Ecampus views “a sense of belonging” as a key indicator of success for their online learners.

“We’re extremely proud to be among the first institutions to explicitly measure how our online learners themselves describe success, not just by university or institutional standards,” Perez says. “And we know from research that belonging is one of the most critical factors for seeing online students persist and thrive, so we track that closely.”

Four-pronged approach to online student success

Creating an environment that helps students feel socially connected and emotionally supported is no easy task for online education providers. However, Oregon State’s model has figured out how to develop an inclusive, engaged culture that drives positive outcomes. Perez outlined four key factors behind its success:

1. An unwavering, student-first approach

“We always ask ourselves, ‘What’s best for the student?’ — not what’s easiest or most convenient for the university,” Perez says.

While a student-centric philosophy is reflected in many institutional mission statements, she believes Ecampus truly exemplifies it through its daily operations, decision-making processes and Oregon State’s campus-wide attitudes toward serving online learners.

2. A hybrid service model

Rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach, Ecampus strategically centralizes some critical services, like the one-stop student services helpdesk, which collaborates with OSU’s network of departments and on-campus units to tailor services like academic advising.

“It’s about giving online learners what they need through the right mix of centralized and localized support at each step of their journey,” Perez says.

3. A premium on exceptional student service

With a reputation among students as a reliable, go-to resource, the Ecampus staff prides itself on providing responsive, high-quality support.

“Our teams have truly set the bar in terms of the caliber of service we aim to provide to online students and on-campus students who occasionally take online classes,” Perez says. “Sometimes a student needs help figuring out where to go or who to call. I believe our quick response time shows students that we put them first.”

4. Comprehensive, end-to-end learner support

Ecampus takes an integrated approach to online education, from enrollment onboarding to graduation.

“We provide holistic support — student services and exam proctoring, success coaching, student engagement and belonging, communications, planning a graduation event and more,” Perez says. “It’s important to view student support as a holistic endeavor not just a collection of services that focus on academics.”

Practical pillars of online student success

The OSU Ecampus team credits a focus on specific services as foundational to online student success: a centralized communication point of contact; a high-quality virtual onboarding and transition experience; accessible academic advising; and access to financial aid and emergency funding assistance. All of these services helped Oregon State earn QM’s Online Learner Success Certification.

The Ecampus student services team is also incredibly proud of its work with the stop-out communications system. One of its goals is to let students know that OSU sees and cares about them. To that end, an automated communication campaign follows up with students who pause, or “stop out,” from their online enrollment.

“It’s meaningful for online learners to get that personal check-in from us,” Perez says. “They often share what circumstances led to their break. We’re able to collect this valuable data and offer relevant support services.

“We aim to help these students address personal roadblocks and get them back on track toward graduation.”

This initiative is an example of such success that OSU Ecampus has presented the concept at conferences so other institutions can better support their students.

“What I loved most was the incredible help system. I was really undecided on what I wanted to do and what degree I wanted to pursue,” says Kati Staudt, who earned her Oregon State business administration bachelor’s degree online. “They also were amazing and helped me find my internship, which just made me feel like they really cared from day one to the end of my degree.”

Learn more about how Oregon State’s 100+ online programs can help you achieve your educational goals.

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