Case Study: University of New England

Key Strategies

  • Handle the exponential growth of the UNE Master’s in Education programs.
  • Achieve and maintain a high retention rate throughout all online programs.
  • Overcome IT challenges to keep students satisfied and engaged.

A highly successful program handles exponential growth and keeps students engaged.

For a student enrolled in higher education, an “A” grade should be the goal. Most programs consider an “A” 90 to 100%, and any student getting 98 to 100% is an extremely high achiever. A parallel can be drawn when considering program enrollment and retention. In two short years the University of New England’s Master of Science in Education programs went from an initial recruitment class of 80 to an astounding 750 students, and they are still growing. But in the face of huge enrollments, which are generally challenging for any school to handle, these programs boast a 98% retention rate. How did they do it?

The following case study is derived from an interview regarding student retention with Paulette St. Ours, Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, the University of New England. Paulette has been instrumental in the school’s development of online programs. Within a few short years, the faculty of UNE and EmbanetCompass developed a suite of Master of Science in Education online programs. Most recently the University has launched an online Master of Social Work.



Before launching any online programs with EmbanetCompass, the University of New England experimented with video-based offerings. Advancements in technology forced the school to make an important decision. In 2006 UNE had to consider taking the next step into online education or exiting the marketplace altogether.

Paulette St. Ours explains, “The answer to that question would be found in another question; could we create a strong curriculum and deliver it well in the online environment? We knew we were maxed out on campus, and we considered online programs a good outlet for growth. But could we deliver and meet the University of New England’s high academic standards?”

What happened next was a combination of the University of New England’s faculty taking ownership of the endeavor, the identification of a niche market and a confidence-boosting visit from the Maine Department of Education, who complimented UNE for their master’s program, strong reputation and student outcomes. The right choice suddenly became clear.

A partnership with EmbanetCompass was formed. Delivering the range of services needed to support UNE’s goals including marketing, recruiting and retention. “We knew we were taking a risk, but we felt if EmbanetCompass could deliver on numbers, we could deliver on curriculum.”

The University of New England’s first online Master of Education program had 80 students. St. Ours explained the rollout process, “We phased in the curriculum one course at a time and overall, it was very nicely staged. This incremental approach has been very successful for us. This fall, we have 750 students enrolled – all within two short years. “

After graduating a first class in May 2009, the program continues to grow at a very rapid rate, achieving the 1,000-student goal at a steady, manageable pace. “Our retention averages 98%. Student satisfaction is very high; they are extremely appreciative of the quality of our program.”

“When I consider our quality programs,” explained St. Ours, “the biggest factor is our faculty. And I don’t mean one person, but the entire group. They have been on board with this process since the beginning, and that has been critical to our success. If you don’t have grassroots support for such an endeavor, it won’t work. You can’t impose it. Success at the curriculum level is very much invested in the overall success of our program. Students won’t settle for anything less.”

One of the biggest challenges UNE faced when bringing their programs online was technical support, instructional design and IT. Even the best IT teams can be quickly overwhelmed if they don’t have experience handling rapid growth and the hosting requirements of an online program. With technology quickly becoming outdated and university budgets shrinking, it is often difficult to fund, maintain and staff a new online program. It’s one of the main reasons EmbanetCompass’ services are designed to take the burden off of the university, allowing faculty to focus on academics, not technical support.

“Early on, we worried about our ability to find enough faculty for these new programs. But surprisingly, that never materialized. We found a large cohort of faculty, primarily through our university and faculty connections and students we have placed in local schools. Our alumni network has also been a great source. Today, it’s not unusual to receive unsolicited CVs, which is wonderful.”

The team at EmbanetCompass strives to keep the students in our online programs on target. St. Ours explains, “Their efforts contacting students at every turn have been phenomenal and the advising has been great – and this obviously aids our retention. Our students never get the impression the people they are talking to on the phone are in Florida. One thing that has impressed us in our partnership with EmbanetCompass is we didn’t want it to seem like an outsourced program. And we don’t; EmbanetCompass has maintained invisibility, and they have essentially become a seamless extension of our internal team.”