Providing Adaptable, Accessible Higher Education

Article Icon Article
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
By Molly Loonam
Photo by iStock/champspixs
Arizona State University launches a customizable bachelor’s program tailored to the needs of working learners.
  • Faculty at the W.P. Carey School of Business realized that the calculus requirement in its bachelor’s programs was a significant barrier to entry for many working professionals.
  • A new bachelor’s program replaces calculus with business analytics, making the program more accessible to students with diverse backgrounds and aspirations.
  • Highly flexible and customizable, the program prepares students for a wide range of careers in areas such as information technology, data analytics, cybersecurity, project management, and human resources.


Three years ago, Michele Pfund noticed a gap in program accessibility for students at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business in Tempe. Specifically, she realized that working professionals considering the school’s programs for retraining had to fulfill a prohibitive number of prerequisites before they could enroll in their desired coursework. The result: Many of these prospective students would never even enroll.

“That inspired and challenged us,” says Pfund, a clinical professor and senior associate dean for undergraduate programs at the school. “How could we create a degree program that provides access to courses students need, when they need it? How can we make sure students can obtain the job skills they seek for their industry?” 

For example, Pfund observed how the school’s 3.0 grade point average transfer admission requirement, calculus requirement, and long list of other prerequisites created barriers for working professionals. Admissions and advising personnel provided similar feedback that reinforced the idea.

“We took this all into consideration,” she says. “Despite our best efforts, our degrees were not as accessible as we would like.”

The school set out to design a new program that reflected the needs of the changing workplace, explains Raghu Santanam, the school’s McCord Chair in Business and senior associate dean for executive education, corporate partnerships, and lifelong learning. With the ongoing development and implementation of new technologies, workers need to embrace lifelong learning by retraining for the jobs of the future.

“Smart organizations are already moving to make learning and development a central part of their workforce strategies,” says Santanam. “To keep pace with the knowledge created in their domains and outside of it, workers and organizations need to have a strategy for upskilling and reskilling opportunities.”

Inspired by the AZNext Model

It so happened that as Pfund began considering the need for a new program, the W.P. Carey School had entered partnerships with local organizations to help veterans retrain, upskill, and complete degrees. Its program for veterans, called Business Readiness for Vets, was offered through AZNext and was an initiative funded by the Department of Labor.

AZNext is a workplace accelerator that the school created in response to feedback from employers who expressed the need for employee proficiency in digital technologies and analytics tools. With its focus on helping employees retrain and upskill, the initiative provided the perfect model for a new bachelor’s program designed specifically for the needs of working learners.

After years of planning and preparation, the school debuted the Bachelor of Arts in Applied Business and Technology Solutions (BATS) degree program in August. Similar to Business Readiness for Vets and other AZNext programs, the BATS degree is structured to be approachable for students, while still helping them cultivate critical thinking and data analysis skills that companies need from their employees. 

Making Education Customizable

Because a calculus requirement has historically been a strong barrier to entry for both traditional and nontraditional students, the foundation of the BATS curriculum is business analytics, not calculus.

“A lot of our students want business degrees. They’re passionate, but it’s rough when they get through their first math class. They just feel so defeated,” explains Danalee Abrams, director of academic advising for undergraduate programs. “When we present a degree option that gets students to their goals but doesn’t require calculus, they’re enthusiastic again.”

The BATS degree includes preexisting courses from the school’s Applied Business and Data Analytics certificate, courses in business foundations (including a supply chain course that also does not require calculus), and a degree-specific capstone.

The BATS degree is structured to be approachable for students, while still helping them cultivate critical thinking and data analysis skills that companies need from their employees.

Another hallmark of BATS is that it allows students from all backgrounds to customize their learning experiences. For instance, students have access to a range of internship opportunities, which the school offers using its existing internship course model and business network.

The BATS program “is in strong alignment with what our corporate partners want and gives students skills that directly translate into long-term success,” says Pfund, the degree architect. Pfund’s co-architect was Nguyen Le, executive director of academic and curriculum processing for undergraduate programs. Le also led the academic and curriculum processing team. 

Additionally, instead of a single major, the program offers the choice of two smaller specializations with 18 customizable pairings. This allows students to tailor their degrees to their career goals and industries of interest. For instance, they can choose specializations that pair diversity, equity, and inclusion with human resource management; healthcare innovation with supply chain management; sales and marketing essentials with project management; or digital business with innovation.

Other specialization areas that support similar pairings include communication, food industry management, global agribusiness, human systems engineering, leadership development, logistics, sustainability, technical communications, tourism, and technology entertainment management.

Making Education Accessible

After the university approved BATS in May, teams from ASU Online and ASU central admissions promoted the degree to prospective students through the ASU text message system, webinars, postcards, email campaigns, and social media channels. W.P. Carey also introduced the program through its student advising, which is delivered based on each student’s campus and major.

The school also wanted to ensure that BATS students all had advisors dedicated to specializations and formats they had chosen for the program. Fortunately, the size of the advising team for ASU Online is large, which allowed the school to leverage advisors’ passion for working with diverse student groups and to align each advisor’s strengths with student needs. These dedicated advisors help students explore potential careers as they make data-driven, well-informed decisions about their future.

In addition to easing many prerequisites, BATS adopted several new policies to increase accessibility and practicality for students. For instance, the degree can be accelerated and completed in as little as three years, and any student accepted into ASU is automatically eligible to pursue the BATS program with no additional GPA transfer requirement.

BATS also applies 12 hours of internship credit to the degree, which allows students to turn real-world experience into academic credit. Students can earn one credit hour for every 40 hours worked in business-related settings. BATS students can apply the work experience they have acquired at their current companies toward the internship course. In this case, they must complete an application process in which they explain how their past experience aligns with the program’s learning objectives. Employers must also verify the details students provide in their applications.

“When students apply their learnings in the real world and reflect on their experiences, they are able to personalize their educational journeys,” says Santanam. “Internships are a way for learners to understand organizational cultures, and immersive experiences help them better navigate their future careers.”

Serving All Students

Whether learners are coming to college for the first time, returning to school amid a life pivot, adjusting their career goals, navigating a layoff, or reentering the workplace, BATS prepares them for countless career opportunities. These include jobs in information technology, data analytics, cybersecurity, project management, human resources, and leadership development.

Students can take the program at the university’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa, Arizona; at the ASU West Valley campus; or online. BATS also has several students enrolled through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, an ASU partnership that covers 100 percent of college tuition for benefits-eligible Starbucks employees. 

Whether students are coming to college for the first time or adjusting their career goals, BATS prepares them for countless career opportunities in fields ranging from data analytics to leadership development.

Many of the program’s Starbucks partners work full-time to maintain eligibility—a significant percentage are first-generation students who didn’t think college would be a possibility for them. Programming like BATS is essential for supporting these learners’ diverse needs and professional goals, says Abrams.

“I believe in ASU’s fundamental idea of removing barriers to education,” she adds. “I’m excited to have a program that can be tailored to our students and that is as unique as our students are.”

A Growing Community

The new degree has become an important part of the school’s mission to further the West Valley Forward initiative. This initiative encompasses ASU’s commitment to meeting the economic growth and educational needs of Phoenix’s West Valley by supporting small and family businesses through new centers and continuing education.

BATS is one of several programs offered through W.P. Carey’s new School of Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship (TIE), launched earlier this year on its West Valley campus. In addition to BATS, TIE offers a Bachelor of Arts in Entrepreneurial Leadership and a master’s degree in supply chain management. The school will also host the Center for Experiential Learning to connect students with practical, real-world experiences through on- and off-campus opportunities. 

Gopalakrishnan Mohan, professor, senior associate dean of faculty, and director of TIE, says the school is excited to debut BATS not only because it is more accessible, but also because it offers analytics-based training that will increase the quantitative competency of graduates. 

“The future of work is technology solution-focused, and TIE will prepare our students for exciting careers in the digital world,” says Mohan.

Learners who lack higher education experience but are interested in reskilling or upskilling also can enroll in ASU Universal Learner Courses, a low-risk opportunity for learners to complete certificates and college prerequisites at their own pace and at reduced cost. The platform provides another accessible pathway for students to enter BATS and other ASU programs. 

BATS’ inaugural cohort has more than 300 students, representing a range of ages and backgrounds, and the school sees tremendous growth potential for the degree. “The idea of combining access and excellence to provide high-quality degree programs that are accessible, flexible, and have the potential to transform and improve people’s lives on a broad scale, is why we do what we do,” says Pfund. “It’s incredibly inspiring.”

Molly Loonam
Copywriter, W. P. Carey Marketing and Communications, W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.