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Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Pandemic Silver Lining: Helping Former Students Finish Degrees Online | Student Success - EDUCAUSE Review

The UMBC Finish Line near-completer reengagement program leveraged the university's expanded inventory of online classes and helped to recover students who left the university before completing their degrees.


In the spring and fall of 2020, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), like most colleges and universities, pivoted to remote instruction and online learning out of concern for the health and safety of our 13,497 students, 931 faculty, and 1,295 staff during the coronavirus global pandemic, argues John Fritz, Associate. VP, Instructional Technology et al.

Photo: Gwoeii / © 2021

While UMBC offers three online master's programs, less than five percent of our courses are offered online during a typical fall or spring semester. 

However, for fall 2020, approximately 90 percent of all UMBC courses were held online, with the remaining courses delivered in a hybrid format (part online, part face-to-face) to support pedagogical necessity (e.g., performing arts, labs, etc.) while also maintaining social distancing in our available classrooms. For example, the largest lecture hall at UMBC has a seating capacity of 350, but to ensure social distancing during the fall 2020 semester, no more than sixty-four people could occupy the space. Consequently, most courses were taught online via remote instruction. 

To be sure, moving nearly all teaching and learning online so quickly was challenging, especially at the undergraduate level, but one unexpected outcome was successfully recovering or "re-recruiting" 123 former students who (for one reason or another) left UMBC before finishing their degrees...

...we learned some important lessons from implementing this program. Although we had always reached out to students who were close to degree completion in the past, we have never had this level of response. One key element of our communication that was different this time was that students could return to school fully online...


Helping students return and complete a degree is one of the fastest ways to increase college attainment in the United States. It is also the morally right thing to do. Higher education professionals need to be thinking about how our policies and practices can best serve adult learners and find ways to make them feel like they are welcomed and important members of our communities. We need a variety of models that will lead to different certifications to help people get jobs. We cannot use a cookie-cutter approach where everybody comes into our institutions and graduates in four years. Today's students need a flexible, affordable, and supportive higher education system, and the time is now to act on this knowledge.

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Source: EDUCAUSE Review