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Q&A: Making Impact and Getting Out of the 'Taskiness' of Student Support


Amber Artiaga

Hi Amber - What’s your current role and scope of responsibilities at Campus?

I’m currently the VP of Student Support, which means I’m responsible for every aspect of the student lifecycle from the moment they choose Campus up until graduation. That includes onboarding students, managing a team of support coaches, and all the coaching operations to support the student throughout their time with us.

For onboarding, our goal is to help set the right expectations with students, make sure they are aware of all the resources available to them and help build community as early as possible. Our support coaches are there to help students get to graduation and unblock anything along the way.

Can you tell us a bit more about Campus? What’s unique about their model?

We are a modern community college offering associate degrees and certificate programs from the top educators across the country. We are headquartered in NYC but the educational offerings can be in-person, hybrid or online. We have a physical campus, formerly MTI College, in Sacramento for in-person but also offer Campus Scholars, which is a fully online experience.

Our classes are live, synchronous experiences held in the evenings to fit our learners’ work / caretaking responsibilities.

We are unique in a few ways. We are a community college with top tier faculty, 1:1 coaching support and we cap tuition at Pell Grant amounts so the education can be affordable and many of our students don’t have to come out of pocket at all.

What are your top priorities this year?

A focus area for my team is how we welcome students into the experience. So I’ve been very focused on the onboarding or “indoctrination process.” These learners are taking on a new identity as someone who is working AND a student. That can feel very new and different. So during onboarding and in that first orientation week, we make sure learners know how to use our learning platform, know when their classes are happening and how to get help, and start to build community with their peers. The latter we accomplish through offering virtual clubs.


Beyond academics, we also offer a number of programs to expose students to topics that will help them overcome life’s obstacles. Here are a few examples:

  • Career Cafe - we invite outside professionals to share what they do and the real details about how they overcame life circumstances to get there

  • Transfer Tuesdays - exposes students to different colleges and universities and the process for transferring credits over.

  • Money Mondays - provides financial literacy education that goes beyond talking about tuition to talking about credit, taking out loans, budgeting

As someone who’s been supporting adult learners for 13+ years, what’s different about today’s learners (or how to support them) versus in the past?


A couple observations:

  • The idea of going to school online is way more acceptable and is not necessarily thought of as an inferior experience.

  • Students are in a more pressure cooker situation than ever before. Exposure to trauma, especially in the last 2-3 years because of a global pandemic, war, inflation, and social justice events, will bleed into a students’ academic life. There’s now a bigger focus on mental health and the whole student. That’s why we’ve partnered with some providers to offer free sessions to our students.

  • From a career path perspective, there is a much wider breadth of pathways for students. It’s both a blessing and a curse because it puts a lot more responsibility on the student to plan and carve out their own journey.

You’ve worked in both traditional higher education at places like California Southern University and Western Governors University and more innovative online adult education providers like BloomTech (fka Lambda School) and now Campus, what do you think are the biggest similarities and differences?

From a learners’ perspective, the biggest similarity is that learners are going back to school to gain the skills to pay the bills. It’s not about getting the paper but what the paper gets them to next.


The biggest difference is the time scale. In higher education, learners have time to adjust to the new environment, time to figure out how best to study and make the most out of their experience. In a shorter form program, the pace is much more intense so the window to get up to speed and running is much tighter. That’s why onboarding has to be that much more intentional.

Any final thoughts for the Learner Success Guild community?


Something that we don’t often talk about and take a moment to appreciate is that our work is an incredible responsibility and can make a significant impact for one individual.


Most adult learners are essentially taking time away from their family, potentially taking time away from their job to step into this space because they believe that in doing so, it will provide them with more opportunities than they currently have. As an institution, that is an incredible responsibility. So if they don’t graduate, they are actually worse off. They might have taken out loans and not to mention the time spent. In some cases, they’ve gone through multiple institutions and are trying this again - trying to avoid the repeated bad experience and bad outcomes.

Sometimes we get into the ‘taskiness’ of what we have to do - we gotta onboard students, we have checklists and reporting to do. But if we enter into our engagement with students knowing that we are supporting them in making a real positive life change, hopefully internalizing that weight makes each interaction that much more meaningful.


So I try to remind my team: that on your worst day, you are still changing someone else’s life.

 

If you're interested in being a part of a community of operators and student success leaders focused on supporting adult learners, consider applying to the Learner Success Guild.




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