Dr. Stacey Ludwig-Johnson is Associate Provost for Academic Services at Western Governors University (WGU) where she manages the groups responsible for delivering many of the institution’s student support services. Among them: the Office of the Registrar, Orientation Team, Withdraw Recovery Team, Student Success Team, Career and Professional Development Services, Field and Clinical Placement, and Student Services. Dr. Ludwig-Johnson ensures these services align with the Institution’s mentor model, which emphasizes student progress, retention, and completion.
Dr. Ludwig-Johnson has served WGU for more than two decades. The Institution was among the first online colleges to embrace a self-paced, competency-based learning approach. Many of its programs are student-directed, which gives Dr. Ludwig-Johnson unique perspective into how student services can help independent learners succeed online. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Innovation from the University of Colorado – Denver.
[OnlineEducation.com] Prospective students without online learning experience might worry they will receive less help than those attending traditional campuses. What are some of the ways colleges ensure online students feel connected and supported?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] Online colleges use social and professional networking to connect prospective students, enrolled students, and alumni to build learning and support communities. The communities often center around courses, programs, colleges, and special interest groups. It is also a common practice for students and their advisors and faculty members to connect electronically through chat, email, phone, and web conferencing.
[OnlineEducation.com] Technologically speaking, how do colleges deliver support services to online students?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] We know that our students need access to services at a time that is convenient given their busy schedule, typically during extended hours and weekends, and via the delivery method that fits their needs at the moment. We do our best to provide self-service options for students, but we also have a Student Support Center that is available for calls and responds to student emails and requests. As needed, students also have the option to schedule appointments that meet their needs. Most institutions are using robust customer relationship management systems to document and track their interactions with students, which allows them to identify issues early and push notifications and alerts to students.
[OnlineEducation.com] WGU’s WellConnect program page lists several online student services that fall beyond the umbrella of career, financial aid, and academic support. Can you discuss some of them?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] The core of WGU’s student support model is our mentoring program that partners a student with an individual faculty mentor from orientation to graduation. When the student’s needs fall outside of the academic support relationship, the mentor and student can turn to internal resources or external resources such as WellConnect. WGU has partnered with WellConnect to provide personal counseling services that can occur by phone or in the student’s local community through the WellConnect network. WellConnect provides other consultation services for financial management and legal issues, as well as programs to support students through life transitions and community referrals such as child care and elder care.
[OnlineEducation.com] The types of services online colleges offer vary, and some prospective students might not know how to compare them. If you were advising such a student, which support programs would you characterize as essential?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] I would recommend that students look for a dedicated advising or mentoring program so they know where to turn when they need help. I would also suggest that students ask if the other support services, including the IT service desk, are available extended hours and weekends when most online students are studying and might need help navigating the system or dealing with access issues. Finally, I would recommend that students ensure that the Career and Professional Development Services meet their career advancement needs, including support to research potential employers, resume or portfolio review, and guidance on building a professional network.
[OnlineEducation.com] Are there any other ways online colleges and universities help students succeed beyond formal support services?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] It goes without saying that online programs meet the needs of students that can’t attend on-campus courses due to schedules, location, or even disability. Most programs offer one-on-one tutoring, writing and math centers, library services, and assessments that are all delivered remotely and conveniently for the student. The programs typically use learning management systems that track a student’s engagement in the courses and provides an early warning system to advisors and faculty members that a student may need additional support. The convenience of online learning, coupled with the opportunity for proactive support from faculty and advisors, really encourages student success.
[OnlineEducation.com] What advice might you offer new online students who want to get the most out of their learning experiences? Are there any particular programs and services frequently overlooked or undervalued?
[Dr. Ludwig-Johnson] I would recommend that students take advantage of the academic advising and career support services to complement their online courses. The advisors often have a broader perspective on the academic program and know exactly where to send students when they need help of any kind. In terms of career support services, it has been our experience that students wait until the last term of their program to seek career support, usually in the form of resume reviews, when we could have helped them build their professional network, research possible careers and potential employers, and build experience in terms of internships or volunteer work along the way. Fully utilizing the advising and career services can help students make a more successful transition from college to career.