Schools Develop Programs to Raise Student Preparedness Levels

Many higher education institutions have reported that incoming freshmen are entering colleges and universities unprepared for rigorous coursework, compared with the level of preparedness they saw from new students on campus before COVID-19. Studies point to a serious learning gap between high school and college, and schools are now having to find ways to bring students up to speed so they’ll succeed in their post-secondary education.

“A high school degree doesn’t guarantee that you’re prepared for college,” said Nic Rebne, Vice President, Learning Solutions, Cambridge University Press, who spoke at the Student Preparedness: Bridging the Learning Gap in 2023 session, part of Fierce Education’s Fierce Education’s recent online event, “Higher Education: Helping Faculty Navigate Top Challenges in This New Blended Learning Environment.” Cambridge University Press sponsored the session, which looked at measures colleges and universities can take to help incoming students make up for the lack of preparation they may have experienced due to the pandemic. The session was also presented by Chris Lee, President of Western Governors University Academy. To view the on-demand version of the presentation, click here.

Although COVID-19 didn’t help the situation, the pandemic is not entirely responsible for the increase in unprepared students. “The pandemic just expanded the gap even further between students who were ready for higher education and those who were not,” Rebne said. “Many institutions have adopted remedial courses or taken other approaches.” There are different cost-effective and student-friendly ways institutions can raise a student’s readiness for higher education, including teaching and learning innovations, some involving technology. 


One school has implemented an innovative program that provides remedial courses for high school graduates who are not ready for the rigors of higher education, and then offers admission to the university upon successful completion. At Western Governors University, student preparedness efforts began before COVID-19, when the school began turning down large numbers of students for admission. “Between 2018 and 2019, WGU denied admission to more than 30,000 applicants,” Lee said.

Because WGU had to deny admission to so many learners, university leadership considered helping improve student preparedness. “We formed a hypothesis that If there were a way to ready learners for success, it could help us improve outcomes for these learners and help us improve our return on our marketing efforts,” Lee explained.

The university formed WGU Academy, which operates as a separate nonprofit entity and offers courses designed to help under prepared college-bound students. The WGU Academy offers courses that align with the university’s degree programs. Students can complete the course of study in as little as two months at a cost of $150 monthly, and admission to WGU is guaranteed with fully transferable credits upon completion. The guaranteed admission pathway includes two three-credit courses with an option to add a third course, and personal coaching is included in the program.

“Approximately 90 percent of WGU Academy Learners come from an underserved group,” Lee explained. “These learners come from one or more underserved groups, including low-income, rural, first generation college students and students of color.”  

This bundle of services we offer has had significant benefits to learners, Lee explained. “Most, if not all, learners who have come to the academy were originally denied admission to WGU. We’ve seen significant improvements in completion rates of the full bundle of courses,” Lee pointed out. “We also track the underserved groups, and those groups are moving in tandem with the average, with no real gaps.”

In addition, students who complete the Academy program show higher persistence and completion rates than the average WGU student, with a 16 percent improvement compared to the overall WGU average. “And remember, these are the same students who were initially denied admission to the university,” Lee pointed out.

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