Case Study: Online Advising at Adams State University

card and screen 2

An integrated online advising solution that works

Adams State University is a public institution in southern Colorado. They live by the motto “Great Stories Begin Here.” Founded in 1921 as a teacher’s college, Adams State has expanded to offer dozens of undergraduate disciplines of study in addition to master’s degree programs and a doctoral program. Most of their programs are offered online for increased accessibility for distance learners and full-time professionals. Adams State University aims to enhance southern Colorado’s “educational opportunity, economic development, and cultural enrichment.” (
Adams State’s Office of Extended Studies offers distance learning opportunities in undergraduate studies, graduate studies, K-12 educators, and high school students. Through eLearning, online instruction, personal correspondence, face-to-face classes offered beyond the ASU campus, and professional development opportunities for K-12 educators, Adams State offers a comprehensive online education portfolio.

The Challenge

How do you engage more than 600 degree-seeking students from a single distance learning office?
How do you create effective communication between more than 7,000 enrolled online students with their advisors?
Adams State faced this problem – and worked to find a solution.

As an institution offering comprehensive distance learning opportunities for its students, Adams State worked diligently to keep up with phone and email communication with their distance learners. It was a priority for the school to facilitate communication between students with their peers, instructors, and advisors. Adams State was looking for a solution to engage its students, make online advisors more accessible, and facilitate the question-and-answer process for distance learners.

The Search

Carissa Watts, Director of Advisement and Recruiter for the Office of Extended Studies at Adams State University, says they knew they needed a few features: availability and calendaring functions, instant chat, and website integration. In addition, any product needed to be intuitive and FERPA compliant.
The biggest challenge, Watts said, was convincing the administration about the need for this product. Watts immediately began getting campus stakeholders on board with product implementation. Watts said she was persistent in her desire to implement Cranium Cafe, and the affordable price point sweetened the deal for administrators. The process took about two months to cultivate buy-in and sign the contract, and the Cafe was fully implemented by November 2014.

The Solution

Adams State University tested Blackboard Collaborate and completed a training for the program, but it “was too much for our students.” After hearing about Cranium Cafe at a NACADA Region 10 Conference, she knew she wanted to bring it to her institution. “Just the way the features were presented made me want this service right then and there for our students and advisors. I did not have to do much searching after this presentation since I knew Cranium Cafe was just what we needed.”
Watts believed in Cranium Cafe as a tool to offer the in-office experience to off-campus students. The video and meeting collaboration software provided easy options for advising distance learners, and the instant chat functionality allowed enrolled and prospective students fast and easy communication with their staff.

Cranium Cafe offered chat and collaboration functionality for prospective students in addition to degree-seeking students. The Cranium Cafe team worked with Adams State to customize the interface to display on their website in an engaging way. Watts said this created “an aggressive form of marketing for students to use this feature.”
After featuring the Cafe interface at the top of search results and their webpage, Adams State has seen amazing and effective results.

“Cranium Cafe has exceeded our expectations. We did not expect to be as busy as we are with the chats/Cafes that were coming in during our peak time of spring 2015 course registration. We are seeing that students who are using this feature seem to find it easy and convenient, and that is what we wanted for our students.”
–Carissa Watts

The Results

Since implementation, 27% of website visitors navigate to the Cranium Cafe page to chat instantly with an online advisor. Since November, ASU has seen an increase in the number of people communicating with them through the Cafe. At the beginning of November, they immediately saw 67 people per week engaging through the platform; most recently, the number has increased to more than 130 people per week chatting with the staff. That is an average of 26 people per day utilizing the Cafe’s functionality.
The Adams State team was innovative in its implementation: as an added incentive, every degree seeking student who chatted with them received a 4GB Adams State University USB drive. In addition to a “live online chat” icon at the bottom of every email, they drove engagement through the Cafe to record levels – and saved themselves time in the process.

“I think Cranium Cafe has had an impact on our student learning by students being able to get accurate and fast information that they can apply to their knowledge of Adams State. They can then make an informed decision by the information they gain through the chat. Cranium Cafe has also provided an option for students to seek clarification that may not be understandable on the web site like it
should be.”
– Carissa Watts

The increase in student usage has decreased call in the office as students utilize the chat feature rather than calling the main line. In addition, this allows them staff to better track common student questions to improve their website and offer clarification before students need to engage the staff.

Want to learn more about Cranium Cafe and how it can help your institution? Check out our website at or call us at (801) 935-4244.


Leslie Brown

Leslie Brown

Director of Academic Outreach at Cranium Cafe
I'm a higher ed geek and I can usually be found tweeting/blogging/chatting/pondering somewhere about it. Other things I think are awesome: Ender's Game, RadioLab, Game of Thrones, and I have a weird brain crush on the Canvas Network and their interdisciplinary MOOCs. It's just... SO COOL.
Leslie Brown
About the author: Leslie Brown
I'm a higher ed geek and I can usually be found tweeting/blogging/chatting/pondering somewhere about it. Other things I think are awesome: Ender's Game, RadioLab, Game of Thrones, and I have a weird brain crush on the Canvas Network and their interdisciplinary MOOCs. It's just... SO COOL.