Nicole Barbaro, WGU Labs
Meredith Riggs, Carnegie Mellon University
Jason Levin, WGU Labs
Carolyn Rosé, Carnegie Mellon University
Unique features of WGU – fully online, program mentors (personal faculty mentor) & monthly term start dates – allow for evaluation of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected student academic outcomes independent of the online transition. We applied a 20-topic topic model to qualitative meeting notes from program mentors to categorize students (N=2,080) with COVID-19 related issues (HighCOVID; 13% of students) from those without (LowCOVID). We categorized students with above median number of interactions with their program mentor (HighSupport) from those with below median number of interactions (LowSupport). Student earned course units (CUs) in spring 2020 was the academic outcome variable of interest. HighSupport students earned significantly more CUs than LowSupport students. HighCOVID students received more support on average than LowCOVID students. An interaction showed that there was no effect of COVID issues within HighSupport & LowSupport students, suggesting an important buffering effect of social support on student outcomes. These findings provide useful information to educational institutions about the importance of social support for student success during the pandemic.
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