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Student Success in a Virtual Social Campus at Western Governors University

By August 12, 2014

Western Governors University was founded on the idea of expanding higher education through online, competency-based degree programs. WGU opened its doors to students in 1999 and now this national university serves over 48,000 students in all 50 states.

Even with the nearly 30% annual growth, the online model presents some interesting challenges. One of the many challenges the University needed to overcome as a virtual campus was connecting students with other students, students with their mentors, and mentors to mentors. WGU also needed to provide a personal dynamic experience starting with prospective students.

WGU is using Salesforce to track and engage students from prospect to graduation. This engagement model allows enrollment counselors to help prospective students through both admission and enrollment. Below is a synopsis of how this is achieved.

Personal Page – Initial prospective student interaction with WGU

When a prospective student applies for admission at WGU, the data from the application is stored in Salesforce as an Opportunity. This information is used to track each student’s activities and interactions throughout their time at WGU. As part of this process, an APEX trigger automatically creates a personal URL for the student, is stored in the Opportunity and is emailed to the prospective student.

The URL directs the student to a personal and dynamic public VisualForce page. This page provides personalized instructions and information based on application data provided by the student to become enrolled. The personal page is available to the student throughout the admission process, orientation, and as a student.

Western Governors Community Page

On the student‘s personal page, information to contact an assigned enrollment counselor is provided. Dynamic information about their chosen degree, campus location and help for completing the application process is also found. The student has available a wide variety of useful guides, videos, and other resources.

The Salesforce staff at WGU took this product to the next level by creating an application in Salesforce to allow the enrollment department the ability to make changes to the personal page through an admin page, without requiring additional developer time – essentially creating a content management system (CMS) for the personal page application.

Continued engagement with students using Salesforce Communities, Chatter and Knowledge Base

Although many schools now understand the importance of a social campus, WGU originally had to think about how to build a virtual place for students to interact and to connect over common interests and goals.

Communities Menu

WGU provides exactly that by using Salesforce Communities in three areas: 1) enrollment, 2) active students, and 3) student services. Communities are allowing students and student-mentors to connect, share information, build relationships and ultimately work towards graduation.

The Salesforce Knowledge Base, which plugs into each Community, actually allows students to engage directly with a course. Students can find up-to-date course content, videos and frequently asked questions. They know exactly what’s going on at all times and can plan or study accordingly.

Student Chatter

Chatter is also an integral part of the way we use Communities. By using Chatter in our communities, we are connecting students to students, students to mentors, and mentors to mentors in real time. This provides a 24-hour venue for the exchange of ideas and collaboration. Chatter provides the ability to share files and videos, make comments on posts, and “like” as is done on other social sites.

Putting it succinctly, Salesforce gives us the ability to take a prospective student who wants to come to the University all the way through graduation. Using the process I have outlined above, it provides a complete 360 view of everything that is going on for the student. Ultimately, it puts students in control of their education.

As we add more functionality to our implementation, Salesforce will eventually fulfill the entire enrollment process and will be an important tool as we continue to track our students. In the future, anyone who interacts with a student in any way will be doing it through Salesforce.

To learn more about how other universities use the Platform, register for the upcoming webinar “Connected Campus: Building Custom Apps on the Platform.” Hear how Brian Peddle, CTO at College for America (CfA), and his team use Salesforce to introduce new processes across the entire student lifecycle and build innovative custom apps.

Register Now

About the Author

Dave PerryDave Perry is the Salesforce Program Manager at Western Governors University. His IT experience spans over 20 years in marketing, financial, health care and higher education. Dave serves as the primary administrator and a senior developer for Salesforce.organization with over 2,800 user and 190,000 portal licenses. With more than 5 years of Salesforce experience, his role includes managing and mentoring a team of 7 Salesforce developers, 10 administrators and a 12-member offshore Salesforce team. This enables his team to blur the line between development and administrators to provide the best possible solutions for student success. He also serves on’s Higher Ed Advisory Council and is the organizer of the Utah Salesforce Developer User Group. You can follow him on Twitter @SalesforceDev.