As the Chief Administrative Officer at The American Women’s College (TAWC) at Bay Path University, I spend the majority of my time with numbers; analyzing data trends and looking for new ways to improve our practices and our use of technology to be more nimble and responsive to our students’ needs. But I get my inspiration from the personal stories of the women whose lives have been impacted.
Many have started and stopped gathering credits for a degree over literally decades, but were finally able to get that degree with us because of the flexibility and support of our innovative, award-winning model, SOUL (Social Online Universal Learning). Others have found themselves at roadblocks in their careers because they lack the degree necessary for advancement. Many say their experience with us has literally transformed their lives.
Kimberly Sykes, one of our students who graduated this year with a Bachelor of Science in Health Service Administration, is just one of those stories. Kimberly came to the program after working for three years at a small hospital, where she was tasked with the responsibility of raising money to build up the surgical department. She was highly successful in her job, but when a supervisory position opened up, for which she thought she would be “a shoo-in”, she was passed over because she didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. That experience was her wake up call. “I’m not going to get passed over for a promotion again because I don’t have a four-year degree; I’m going to Bay Path,” she decided. Since she works full time and has a son who plays after school sports, Kimberly knew that on-campus classes were not an option, so she enrolled in TAWC.
In our accelerated program, the courses are just six weeks long and we cover a lot of material in a short time. The beauty of SOUL is that it adapts to how individual students learn. SOUL automatically puts interventions in place if a student is struggling, directing her to educational coaches included in each student’s tuition and connecting her with her advisor when she needs it. Importantly, with learning analytics we’re not waiting for a student to fail on their first project to see if she is on track, we can see how she is doing as she works, whether she is grasping the concepts and moving ahead, the number of revisions on a project, whether she is improving or actually digressing in her knowledge concepts.
For Kimberly, the first intervention occurred just three classes in. After years away from an academic environment, she was falling behind and starting to panic, but a conversation with her advisor changed everything. “She listened to me, suggested I lighten my course load, and shared helpful encouragement with me that pushed me to keep going. Had it not been for her support, I might have quit early on without giving myself the chance to succeed,” she says.
Armed with the encouragement from her advisor, learning technology, the WELL course series, and our online peer support community, Kimberly soon found her academic confidence. The upside of our accelerated program was that she was able to quickly build skills in the healthcare field that were critical to a new position. “Being able to demonstrate and articulate what I’m learning helped me get a promotion after only nine months with a new title and monetary increase of above 15 percent.”
Kimberly’s story is not unique. Right now millions of women in this country just like her have the potential to improve their lives for themselves and their families, but for many, the odds are stacked against them. Even now, in 2017, critical populations are still grossly underrepresented in higher education. Adults 25 and older, racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college and low-income students all face obstacles that can keep them from pursuing an education or succeeding once they enroll. And yet a four-year degree is more important than ever to financial well-being and career growth for these women. Earnings for women with a bachelor’s degree are 87% higher than those with only a high school degree. That’s why I come to work each day determined to continuously dig into the numbers, analyze the data and experiment with different technology. Because the work we do actually changes lives.
And if I ever need inspiration, all I need to do is listen to students like Kimberly. “I’ll be the first one in my immediate family to graduate from college and I’m proud that I get to break that chain,” she says. “Until recently, I’d never considered getting a master’s degree, but if working towards my bachelor’s degree can take me as far as it has already, I can only imagine what’s next.”