Helping Students Grow
It’s Thursday night, and Coleen Carroll heads for her Financial Management class. She will join 23 of her BJC colleagues like she has done for the past two years as they have moved together through the Master of Health Administration (MHA) program at Webster University.
Carroll, whose goal is to become an administrator in a skilled nursing facility, took the plunge to go back to school after 25 years. She says studying with the same group of colleagues throughout her program has helped her with the demands of the program. “We have gotten to know each other and our individual strengths, and we can help each other,” she said.
Carroll and her colleagues are part of a cohort program that Webster offers its corporate partners, including BJC and several others in the St. Louis metropolitan area. Currently, there are approximately 15 active cohorts with a total of around 300 students, pursuing the MHA or the MBA program.
Companies that partner with Webster to provide educational opportunities to their employees may see an increase in employee satisfaction, the advancement of a culture of learning, and an increase in talent acquisition and retention.
Cohorts also provide several benefits to students. Coming from the same company and moving through the same program together allows students to take advantage of their shared academic and work experiences. As Carroll puts it, for her MHA cohort, “We all have a medical brain; we are actively involved in patient care.”
Terrance Barber, an adjunct professor who teaches several courses in the MHA program, agrees. Students in his cohort classes “have a multitude of perspectives from their work experiences in hospitals and hospital system-related offices,” he says. Be believes the reports and public studies they share with each other from their professional lives enhance their learning experience.
Students may also find networking opportunities. Dean-Designate Simone Cummings, who teaches the Financial Management class, considers that an important aspect of a cohort class. “As they interact with one another and learn from one another, they may be able to parlay these connections into new job opportunities.”
Another benefit is reduced tuition, often accompanied by corporate tuition reimbursement plans. As an example, Carroll says that such a combination has enabled her to achieve her degree for a total out-of-pocket of about $2000, a savings of more than $24,000. Discount rates and reimbursement rates vary among corporations, but similar savings are possible.
Mark Bowers is a classmate of Carroll’s. In addition to interacting with his colleagues, he likes having instructors who are experts in their field. “They have a broad range of experience that often directly relates to the subject matter,“ he says.
As with other programs at Webster, instructor accessibility is an important aspect of student success. As an example, Cummings often joins her students’ weekend study groups to help go over difficult concepts. And with a quantitative course such as Financial Management, students often need that extra help.
Cummings sums it up nicely: “The cohort model is a nice way to learn, where you can get support from your faculty and peers in an engaged, stimulating environment.”
Developing a Cohort
Webster cohorts exist primarily in the St. Louis metropolitan area. But there are plans to eventually expand the model to other Webster campuses. To do so requires a bit of planning, but the resulting positive student engagement and increased relationships with area corporate partners may be well worth that effort.
The process starts with the Office of Corporate Partnerships, which is continually working with local businesses to build mutually beneficial partnerships that align company needs with University resources. A cohort is one of the best ways to meld these interests.
Dawn Jensen, director of Corporate Partnerships and Engagement, says there are several questions to ask in determining the likelihood of success for a cohort at one of our partners:
Do we have the programs they need to fulfill their employee development and retention goals?
Does the organization have the potential for growth in order to sustain the establishment of new cohorts on a regular basis?
Does the organization have (or is willing to establish) a tuition reimbursement plan?
Once a cohort is developed, there are administrative processes that have to be implemented and overseen for the life of the cohort. Enter Lucy Bodet, academic advisor and Cohort Manager Extraordinaire, who manages orientation, advising, registration, billing, textbooks, program rotation, and various other issues for about 300 students each term. She also provides a wealth of resources to help cohort students navigate through their program. The managing of such details contributes significantly to the success of the cohort program.