Through Academy, Education Barriers, And Borders, Fall

Like any pilot program, Global Freshman Academy faces challenges, struggling with how to keep students motivated, how to grow a diverse and unconventional student body, and how to increase the number of students who choose to purchase credit.

Students who are serious about earning credit must pay an upfront fee to get ID Verified, a step that allows them to take a virtually proctored final exam online, Sannier says. Those who pass the final exam are then eligible to earn academic credit from ASU.

In the academy’s first year, about 2,300 of those 150,000 students chose to pay the $50 fee to become ID Verified, Sannier says. “The threshold to sign up is very low,” he says. “That means it becomes easy for people to get in, look around and say, this course is not for me, and stop. There’s a great deal of fall-off in the first set of students who come in.”


Anant Agarwal. MIT

Anant Agarwal. MIT

Sannier, who teaches the academy’s introductory College Algebra and Problem Solving course, says administrators and teachers are working hard to curb that initial fall-off by developing a robust communication system with students that encourages them to stick with the class material. They also learn about ASU resources like undergraduate coaches or teacher-developed online video tutorials.

“Our twin goals are to attract more students to courses who are interested in credit and convert more of the students who are engage with us to purse the course for credit,” he says.

For example, of the 22,000 who signed up for Sannier’s math course when it became open for enrollment about a month ago, about 6,000 are doing what he describes as “serious and engaged” work.  About 60 students have gotten to the point where they’ve been invited to take the final for credit. The first to receive credit for the college algebra course was a twelfth-grader from Taiwan, Sannier says.

“What we do is analyze the course day over day and week over week and internally send messages to the different student populations,” he says. “We might send a message to one group of students that says, ‘Hey, we think you might make better progress if you attend class regularly. Can you give us an idea of what’s driving your schedule and how you’re finding the course so far?’”


One of the academy’s early success stories is Morgan Richards, a 31-year-old mother of three who was living in Dubai when she learned about the program. Richards was attending a technical college in Charlotte, N.C., when her second child was young, but her plans were put on hold when her husband, an airline pilot, was sent to Dubai for work.

Richards’s life-long dream had always been to attend ASU; the Global Freshman Academy made that possible. She says the format appeals to her because she can do the classwork after she puts her children to bed, and time zone differences aren’t a problem — all that matters is that she completes the work on time.

“At first I was confused because something like this hadn’t been done before,” Richards says. “You can obviously take online classes at the University of Phoenix and places like that, but usually the offerings are pretty limited. This was a different option and made more sense for me, because I wanted a career in anthropology or evolutionary biology. I was pretty excited the more I learned about it.”


Richards has taken four three-credit-hour general education classes, including algebra, composition and Human Origins, taught by Donald Johanson, the world-renowned paleoanthropologist who discovered “Lucy,” the famed 3.18-million-year-old hominid skeleton.

In a stroke of luck, Richards’s family moved back to the U.S. after her husband recently got a job in Phoenix, Arizona — making it possible for Richards to attend Arizona State University as a campus student after she receives enough credits from the Global Freshman Academy. She’s now in the middle of completing her application for ASU, where she hopes to start matriculating in January 2017, studying for a bachelor of science degree in anthropology.

“I really didn’t think it was feasible to go back to college,” she says. “I figured I’d have to wait till we moved back, start at a community college and work my way up from there. It probably would have been years at least, so I feel pretty lucky I found the program.”

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