Earned admission: Pass 3 prep courses at Utah State, you’re in

Students who don't get accepted on the first try may get a second chance through an expanded process that seeks to increase access and get them college ready
By: | September 24, 2020
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“If you are an incoming freshman and did not meet the criteria for admission to Utah State, you can still be admitted to USU in good standing by successfully completing three self-paced online courses in English, Math and study skills.”

That is the latest pitch from Utah State University, which has launched a strategic initiative called “earned admission” that aims to extend a helping hand to potential students who might be hesitant about attending college or have been denied acceptance. The process isn’t novel – Arizona State University has a similar platform that has evolved through the years – but has become a another tool to try to attract and recruit students.

And Utah State, a land-grand public university in Utah, is serious about it.

The headline on its webpage says simply, “We Want You at USU.” To provide further enticement, those thinking about giving it the old college try can do so for the low price of $125 per month. No tuition. No college credit. But pass three courses and get accepted. Yes, it’s that easy.

Utah State officials say earned admission provides new opportunities to those who did not qualify initially but could under a different set of criteria, for example showing “foundational skills” through those three self-guided courses. It might not be a model that other institutions would consider, but Utah State believes it is a good fit during this time of crisis and change.

“In this moment of profound economic uncertainty for the country, expanding college access is an economic imperative for our state and an essential component of our public land-grant mission,” said Janet Anderson, the university’s associate vice president of academic and instructional services. “This bold new approach to admissions is about closing gaps in academic preparation and helping more high school graduates develop the essential academic skills they need to thrive in higher education.”

Why Utah State? Why now?

Utah State University was recently honored by Washington Monthly as the No. 2 public university in the nation based on its track record on social mobility, research and service. Those who have followed COVID trends closely also might recall that it was Utah State researchers that helped lead the charge in testing waste water for coronavirus.

Aside from those notable achievements, Utah State features a student body of around 28,000 and a comfortably affordable in-state tuition of less than $8,000. The university admits 91% of those who apply, according to numbers gleaned from U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges in 2020.

However, keeping them there after the first year has been a challenge, as it is at many universities across the country. Utah State’s retention rate hovers around 72%, slightly above the national average. Because of the pandemic and other factors, there is significant uncertainty around a key metric: enrollment. Some have done well, others are scrambling to increase numbers.

The earned admission program does more than potentially get students back in the conversation and perhaps lure in new students. It serves to prepare them for the university experience. According to a study done by CompleteCollege.org and cited by Utah State’s platform partner on the project, StraigtherLine, nearly a million students every year need some form of remediaton after they’ve started college. Of those who take remedial coursework, only 35% graduate within six years.

By getting students acclimated through highly immersive courses before admission, like those expected at the collegiate level, better outcomes can be achieved.

“Mastery of a few key academic skills can be the deciding factor for whether or not incoming students are prepared for a successful college start,” said Burck Smith, founder and CEO of StraighterLine. “This work is about boosting access by helping to identify and close those gaps. Utah State has an ambitious vision for dramatically expanding college access to more residents of Utah, and this new approach reflects its deep commitment to increasing college access and success.”

How earned admission will work at USU

Utah State is currently piloting its program with incoming freshmen. It plans to expand that cohort to those who have been impactful by the pandemic, including working adults. Arizona State has offered a similar path to working adults in the past. Utah State has said it will guarantee admission for spring 2021 to those who complete their courses by Dec. 1.

In order to meet that goal, Utah State has offered a number of welcoming guidelines to potential recruits who wish to complete the earned admissions process:

  • Students register for the courses, taking them at their own pace. There are no set semesters, which allow those who are working or involved in other activities the chance to do their schooling flexibly.
  • Courses are 100% online and mobile friendly.
  • Students select the three general education courses: Student success, introductory algebra and developmental writing. There is a class syllabus outlining course texts and guidelines for the classes. Students must achieve a 70% score to pass it.
  • Student Success Coaches are available to each candidate for “10 hours of free one-on-one personal tutoring”. There are also personalized courses on study and time management skills.
  • All eTextbooks provided for the courses are free
  • Once completed, Utah State says there is an automated process to handle the transferal of credit.

The university says that most courses take one to two months to complete but the self-guided pace can allow students to finish sooner if they can.


Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at cburt@lrp.com


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