Effectively Serving a New Population of Learners – Bellevue University


A Not-for-Profit University Created for Non-traditional Learners 

Bellevue University’s beginnings are steeped in the needs of non-traditional students. Originally founded in 1966 by a group of local citizens led by William V. “Bill” Brooks, an Air Force veteran who flew in the Battle of Midway, Bellevue University was created to ensure easy educational access for non-traditional learners, including members of the military and working adults.

Having a foundation in the unique needs of non-traditional learners helped shape the university’s perspective toward students’ needs in the decades that followed. “That whole culture and understanding of the needs and desires is there,” Bellevue University President Mary Hawkins — herself a former working adult learner — said at an academic leadership panel discussion at Guild’s Opportunity Summit.

Dr. Mary Hawkins, second from left, responds to a question from author and Guild Advisor, Michael Horn (left), during an academic leadership panel discussion at Guild’s Opportunity Summit.

Identifying the Needs of a New Student Population

Most of the students Bellevue University traditionally came to serve were transfer students. “They would have three or four transcripts on average, a number of years of different college experiences, some trial and error,” Hawkins explained, “whether they transferred from a community college or transferred from another school, [they came in with] a little bit of know-how about college.”

When Bellevue University began its partnership with Guild, however, more students who had no prior college experience began to enroll — and Hawkins saw they were struggling. “The problem was, because we were traditionally serving so many transfer students, our faculty had gotten used to a faster pace and starting at a higher level,” she said. As many working adult learners are also first-generation students [2], many of the new learners enrolling at Bellevue lacked awareness, both experientially and anecdotally, of the postsecondary norms that their colleagues who had transferred already knew.


Partnering with Guild to Drive First-Time Learner Success

When asked about Bellevue University’s approach to program design, Hawkins acknowledged a shared philosophy across learning institutions in Guild’s certified network. “We really do focus on what will work, what do we do to make things work, [and] we’re also totally conscious and design programs around what do the students need to learn and be able to do to succeed in their careers?”

Bellevue University’s approach to meeting students where they are also applied here. To best answer questions about the needs of a new population of learners, Bellevue University leaned into its values and leveraged Guild’s expertise to better position new students for success. Guild’s Partner Solutions team worked with Bellevue University to develop a learner persona and map out first-time-in-college (FTIC) learner experiences. Bellevue University used these insights to support faculty in adjusting the learner experience design to become a smoother on-ramp for students with no prior college experience. 

Since the joint effort began, Hawkins said that Bellevue University is seeing enhanced retention and overall enrollment growth. The institution has grown from serving a majority of transfer students to a majority of working adult students who are in college for the first time – a testament to an effective approach to meeting this population’s needs.

Shared Responsibility, Shared Success

Time and again, Guild has seen that working with mission-aligned partners is a difference-maker in driving better experiences and outcomes for students, as well as programmatic value. Dr. Hawkins summarized this during her final remarks at the academic leadership panel: “We work really hard for their success,” she said of Guild learners, “both in higher education [and] also [in] taking those skills and that knowledge back to the workplace.”



Click here to talk to our team and learn more about Learning Partnership opportunities with Guild.





  1. Guild’s internal data over the last 12 months as of 07.01.2022
  2. 76% of surveyed Guild members attending programs in Guild’s certified network are first-generation college students. Source: Guild’s survey responses from random and representative Guild Certified Network learners over the last 12 months as of 07.01.2022

Written by Alex Cannon

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Alex Cannon has been an advocate for innovative education for over a decade, with experience in higher ed, cross-functional learning partnerships in workforce, government, philanthropy, and postsecondary education, as well as informal learning. She writes and researches from the intersection of the future of learning, work, and opportunity.

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