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Managing the Learner Relationship to Improve Outcomes

Managing the Learner Relationship to Improve Outcomes


By Niki Wolf, Associate Vice President, Career Services, American Public University System

Innovative technology is rapidly disrupting higher education. When the grades my daughter is earning in elementary school are entered into the county’s grading portal, it can predict how successful she is likely to be in school when she enters ninth grade. Additionally, when she reaches high school and is ready to take more ownership of her classes, she will be provided a recommended course list complementing her academic strengths and interests. My hope is that no matter what this incredible application tells her, she will always know she alone is responsible for her future.

At the recent annual Online Learning Consortium (OLC) International Conference, I was surrounded by inspired educators. It was reassuring and concerning that our common struggle is finding the right balance of support for students to help them not only survive, but thrive, in their studies.

As impressive as technology is today, accountability for a student’s success still falls on their own shoulders. Tools exist to support, but not replace, decision-making and learning. As innovative technologies emerge to identify persistence and retention trends, new gaps are identified. The ClearPath Learning Relationship Management (LRM) tool from APUS partner Fidelis Education is helping bridge the gap between teaching and learning outside of the classroom. In short, we believe the tools and relationships formed through use of the platform will help provide students with a “clear path” to achieving their goals.

Technology should not replace the personal relationships we have with our students, but allow us more time to develop meaningful, lasting ones. While co-presenting at the OLC conference with Chris Valada from Fidelis, I shared how we have been encouraging supportive relationships with our students by utilizing many features in ClearPath, which has allowed us to centralize relationship building and support tools in one place. From a dedicated coach who helps new students acclimate to the university and learning apps focused on financial planning for your future, to peer mentoring connecting students to encourage their personal and professional goals, ClearPath puts resources students need front and center.

The LRM platform was initially piloted in early 2015 with select cohorts of APUS undergraduate students and staff. We recently opened the platform to all graduate and undergraduate students as we began to see positive trends for participants. Pilot students have shown they complete their transfer student application, orientation, and initial registration faster using ClearPath. Additionally, they have higher cumulative GPA’s and are taking a higher course load. We will continue to follow these cohorts up to graduation to see what more we can learn.

Another reason we opened ClearPath to all APUS students was the positive staff feedback and experiences using the LRM. For example, our admissions staff have been able to more efficiently develop personal support and engagement with students from the moment that they request information about the university. The transition from admissions representative to academic advisor has also been streamlined. ClearPath has provided the university with one centralized platform for communications, admissions, advising, student support, communities and student organizations, peer mentoring and, soon, career services. Today, we are engaging over 20,000 ClearPath community members.

Just as human touch is essential to newborn development, so are relationships to the growth of lifelong learners. Though the journey to determine the best level of student support needed to encourage persistence is ongoing, it is clear we are on the right path to solve this together.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus.


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