Cultivating resilient learners

WGU Academy, which offers a low-cost, low-risk on-ramp to higher education, is a model for achieving student success that other entities—including community colleges and four-year institutions—can benefit from through a partnership.

Government, academic and workforce leaders agree: The college readiness gap is an increasing concern. The coronavirus pandemic will make the gap even more problematic. Traditional remediation approaches often fall short even though students and institutions invest approximately $7 billion annually on remedial education. According to Gates Foundation research, two-thirds of community college students take at least one developmental course, and among those students, less than 10 percent graduate within three years.  The results are not much better for students in remedial programs attending four-year institutions.

With a goal to expand access and improve student outcomes, Western Governors University (WGU) created WGU Academy to provide innovative solutions that support multiple institutions. The Academy’s approach focuses on developing resilient learners—especially those who are likely to struggle—with a low-cost, low-risk on-ramp to higher education.

Mindset matters most: Developing resilience for academic and career success

Although progress to improve college readiness has been slow, some approaches are delivering better outcomes—specifically those that include noncognitive skills development and social-emotional learning.

College can be daunting for many students. It doesn’t have to be a dead end. The Academy’s objective is to develop “remarkably resilient learners” who can tackle any courses they are likely to face in college. A two-pronged approach to preparing students—focused on academic preparedness and noncognitive social and emotional skills—offers a new model for college success that goes beyond normal remediation approaches.

The Academy’s Program for Academic and Career Advancement (PACA) is its “secret sauce,” helping students develop persistence, a growth mindset and self-directed planning and learning skills. It is based on an award-winning course that has been delivered to more than 40,000 WGU students and includes self-paced online modules, live online peer group sessions and personalized coaching.

Helping students prepare for success at other institutions

As an independent business unit, the Academy partners with other entities, including states, community colleges and four-year institutions, employers, foundations, and other organizations—such as those facilitating “promise programs.”

The Academy’s first external partnership was in support of the Tennessee Promise scholarship program. Working with tnAchieves, the Academy piloted the tnAchieves Online Summer Bridge Program to help prepare high school graduates (mostly those with ACT scores below the 50th percentile) who were about to enter community colleges across Tennessee.

As states and localities dedicate more resources to expanding higher education access, stakeholders must work together to offer scalable solutions that yield far more resilient learners who can succeed in postsecondary programs. Academy can help.

Programs can be deployed in multiple, flexible ways because they are not required to align with the traditional academic calendar. The Academy can support summer bridge programs for underprepared high school students entering college in the fall, employer-sponsored programs to prepare employees for returning to college, “as needed” support coordinated with schools’ advising departments and statewide efforts to expand access.

ROI: Helping partners yield better academic and workforce results

Student success is always the primary “ROI.” Students develop greater confidence, resolve and learning skills and are more likely to retain and graduate. As student retention improves, the institution can expect a substantial revenue boost. In fact, one study indicated that a one percentage point (ppt) increase in retention equated to more than $1 million in revenue for many institutions. For a college or university of 10,000 students with average per-student revenue of $3,000 a term, a one percentage point retention improvement over just 4 terms can yield over $1 million in additional revenue.

Institutions that invest in meaningful retention efforts consistently benefit. Academy’s approach works well with all types of students but is particularly focused on helping otherwise challenged students. It is also flexible enough to integrate with a school’s other ongoing retention and advising approaches.

In this unique and challenging time, higher-risk students may face even more obstacles as they tackle the rigors of college. Retaining more students who go on to realize their higher ed dreams offers the opportunity for a win-win-win situation. Given the right kind of support, these students will become more resilient and successful, creating better retention rates and increasing institutions’ revenue.

As a result of college readiness programs like WGU Academy, employers and society as a whole benefit from more educated, resilient individuals who support the rebound of our local and national economies.

Patrick (Pat) Partridge is president of WGU Academy. Prior to leading WGU Academy, Partridge served as chief marketing officer at Western Governors University, overseeing the university’s marketing, public relations, enrollment, scholarships, alumni and admissions departments. Connect with Pat via email at

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