Western Governors University
"We know if we can create a connection between the student and the university they'll be more successful and that's what we're all about." - Chip Coons, CIO at WGU

Western Governors Fosters Student Community to Drive Degree Completion

As an online university that employs a competency-based learning model, Western Governors University is no stranger to thinking outside of the box. Not only is all learning at WGU done online, but traditional courses have been banished. Students don’t enroll in classes. Instead, they are given competency requirements they must meet to receive credits. And instead of professors, who give lectures, students are assigned “course mentors” and “student mentors.” Consequently, Western Governors University was recently named one of “The Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World” by Fast Company, Inc.

16 years young, WGU is a fully accredited, non-profit university with over 40,000 students across the US. But like many online universities, they are faced with the problem of trying to create student connections in a virtual environment. While at brick-and-mortar universities making friends and finding study partners can be as easy as sitting next to someone in the same class, WGU has to think of different ways to facilitate true connections and relationships with both students and mentors.

“When [students] initially enroll with WGU, we want to give them the ability to feel like they have a best friend. They have somewhere to go to interact, to hang out, to do things on a personal level” says Dave Perry, Salesforce Program Manager at WGU.

WGU is providing exactly that by using Salesforce.com Communities in 3 different areas: enrollment, active students, and student services. Communities are allowing students and student-mentors to connect, share information, build relationships, and ultimately work towards graduation. The Salesforce Knowledge Base, which plugs into each Community, actually allows students to engage directly with a course. Students can find up-to-date course content, information, videos, and frequently asked questions. They know exactly what’s going on at all times and can plan or study accordingly.

WGU also uses predictive student data profiles. With analytics gathered from all interactions on student communities, WGU is able to know which students are actively engaged, which ones are moving forward, and which ones need help. This has been instrumental in curbing WGU’s course drop rate. “We know how to help our students – give them what they’re looking for when they need it, how they need it, and as often as they need it” says Perry.

Salesforce Communities are being implemented across the entire University. However, Communities are simply one piece of the puzzle. WGU’s over-arching goal is simple: improve graduation rates. Currently, WGU has a 40 percent graduation rate. Given that other online universities are less than 30 percent; this is not a bad number. But WGU’s goal is to better the 50 percent standard held by traditional brick-and-mortar universities. Salesforce will continue to help WGU meet this goal. “Quite literally everything we do is tracked in Salesforce – any interactions between the University and the student are in Salesforce” says Perry. “The fact that we’re able to use [Salesforce] from the point at which a student wants to come to the University all the way through gives us a really good 360 view of everything that’s going on.”

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