BYU-Idaho’s PathwayConnect Making its Mark in the World of Online Education!

Dear Commons Community,

Brigham Young University-Idaho is emerging as a leader in the world of online higher education. One of its certificate programs, PathwayConnect, begun in 2009, has graduated nearly 24,000 students, more than 14,000 of whom have continued on for an online certificate or degree from BYU-Idaho. BYU-Idaho’s online degree programs have also seen significant growth — enrollment has increased tenfold, to more than 13,000, over the past five years.   Here is a description of BYU-Idaho PathwayConnect as featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“As with the rest of BYU, a Mormon character is inseparably woven into PathwayConnect. Required religious offerings, like a two-course sequence on the Book of Mormon, mix with secular courses in writing, mathematics, and life skills, in which students learn about goal-setting and “provident living.” Students can use the program as an entry point to college, says Clark G. Gilbert, president of BYU Pathway Worldwide, “and a path back to the faith.”

But at a time when colleges of all stripes are expanding online to meet the needs of a diversifying student population, PathwayConnect is a model worth paying attention to. Several features of the program could make it relevant — and, in some form, adaptable — to other institutions, religious or not.

Most obvious of these is the price. Students in the United states pay $68 per credit — and even less if they’re overseas. If they later enroll in BYU-Idaho online, they can continue to take the rest of their courses at the same price they paid for PathwayConnect. In the United States, that adds up to just over $8,100 for the 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s degree, half the price of traditional BYU-Idaho. That’s a striking bargain in a world where many political figures still openly dream of creating a $10,000 degree.

How can the program promise such a low price? One reason is BYU-Idaho’s heavy reliance on adjunct instructors. But another key is that most of the student recruiting comes through word of mouth and the 16-million-member church, so Pathway’s marketing and recruiting costs are low. Until recently, its marketing involved primarily some Facebook promotions and asking its missionaries around the world to hand out small promotional cards to prospects.

Until recently, Pathway’s marketing involved primarily some Facebook promotions and asking its missionaries around the world to hand out small promotional cards to prospects.

Some big online colleges spend as much as 20 percent of their budgets on marketing and recruiting. By contrast, marketing costs for PathwayConnect amount to 0.14 percent of the BYU Pathway Worldwide budget, officials there say, although that parent operation spends more than that marketing the rest of its online courses.

For most students, Pathway also serves as the first stop in BYU-Idaho’s online academic program, which is deliberately designed as a series of “stackable credentials” — bite-size certifications that have gained popularity nationwide as a way to give people marketable credentials in the short run that could eventually lead them to to full degrees. After Pathway, every certificate a student earns can count toward an associate degree, and every associate degree can count toward a bachelor’s. The 14-credit professional sales certificate, for example, counts toward the 60-credit applied associate degree, which counts toward a full 120-credit bachelor’s in business management.

“We have a phrase: ‘no credit left behind,’” says Mr. Gilbert, who was president of BYU-Idaho before taking on the new Pathway Worldwide post in February. Certificates and degrees are developed in consultation with an arm of the church called Self-Reliance Services, which assists in deciding which degrees to develop and where they should be offered, based on research it does on local-market employment needs.

The pedagogy is also based on proven ideas, including a hybrid model that combines online education with real-world encounters: The mandatory weekly in-person session, which is called Gathering, divided into one section for students 30 and under and another for those who are older, provides students a live support network of peers, separate from the group of students they interact with online through their formal online classes.

PathwayConnect requires every student to take a turn as “lead student” during Gathering, directing the group in a review of the week’s work. Learning by teaching is a time-honored educational technique. Sharing this responsibility also fits with the teachings of Mormonism, explains Becky Michela, 66, the lead student for the older students’ religion course, “The Eternal Family,” this particular evening explains. “As Latter-Day Saints, we say there’s truth everywhere,” she says.”

Congratulations to BYU-Idaho for its program.  Hybrid/blended model, low-cost, active student learning, and student support services make for a successful program.



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