by Bri Merling
BYU-Pathway Worldwide experienced tremendous growth in 2020, which inspired the organization’s goals for 2021: remove obstacles that keep potential students from higher education, improve the student experience, and prepare to scale even further to better serve a worldwide student body. While institutional in nature, these goals are driven by BYU-Pathway’s mission to develop disciples of Jesus Christ—the foundation for all efforts of BYU-Pathway.
One of BYU-Pathway Worldwide’s greatest achievements in 2020 was record-breaking student enrollment, serving more than 50,000 world-wide. Adding to this milestone, student retention reached 83 percent in September 2020—a 10-percentage-point increase over the previous year—with 5,718 students continuing to an online degree.
Because student retention is greatly impacted by the success net-work of BYU-Pathway—mentors, service missionaries, and instructors—efforts have been made to improve its impact in 2021. These individuals are better able to serve students by receiving “recommended actions,” or messages raising a red flag that a student may be at risk, suggesting how they can be helped. Data systems automatically recognize student needs and route messages to the individual most able to assist. Similar messages for students have been piloted, using nudges through popular messaging apps, email, and the student portal to help them stay engaged in their education.
Knowing that students who complete BYU-Pathway Worldwide’s PathwayConnect are 10 percentage points more likely to persist to the second year of a degree program, BYU-Pathway has piloted mentoring students in their second and third semesters in addition to current first-semester mentoring.
Improve Student Experience
Because student retention is tied directly to the quality of the student experience, BYU-Pathway focused in 2021 on polishing the digital plat-forms students use, including the BYU-Pathway Portal and Degree Planner. Recommended Paths—a new feature in the Degree Planner—guides students along the best route to a degree that will lead to better employment. Simplifying the online degree application and bolstering BYU-Pathway’s data system have contributed to a straightforward expe-rience for students.
In other efforts to improve, BYU-Pathway will continue to strengthen its brand, including emphasizing the purposes of PathwayConnect. Research has shown that many perceive PathwayConnect to be a university-preparation program for inexperienced students rather than an online, foundational, reduced-cost start to a degree that teaches students how to learn in partnership with the Holy Ghost.
Online instructors, previously hired only in the United States, make it possible for BYU-Pathway to serve a worldwide body of students. Last year, the organization tested a new approach by onboarding 10 adjunct instructors in the Philippines. In 2021, that number has grown to nearly 200 international instructors teaching 231 sections. Elder Clark G. Gilbert, former president of BYU-Pathway and current CES commissioner, said, “[These] instructors are pioneers. I can feel that the Lord is working through BYU-Pathway to change the future of the Church. It really is a miracle what’s happening at BYU-Pathway.”
Behind the scenes of BYU-Pathway’s scalability is its significant attention to improve its digital products. Strengthening project teams will allow the organization to better serve students using products that satisfy users’ needs. Creating a seamless and systematic partnership process with other Church Educational System institutions is also vital to meet the needs of BYU-Pathway’s ever-growing student body. This includes establishing frameworks for planning, coordinating, and data-sharing with BYU-Idaho and Ensign College. Partnering with Ensign College will provide new options for students, including a bachelor’s degree in communication and new certificate opportunities. BYU-Pathway looks forward to another year of growth and accomplishment in increasing student retention, improving the student experience, and scaling even further.