Small School, Big Impact: Moving Online to Further a Mission of Service

Last updated on: January 13, 2022

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Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) is a small, faith-based and service-minded school in a low-income area of west San Antonio, Texas. OLLU’s mission is grounded in ensuring people have the resources they need in their lives, which is largely reflected in a very active center for service learning and volunteerism, as well as a nationally renowned social work degree program. Even in programs not directly tied to social service, OLLU’s core values of community, integrity, trust, and service permeate the culture.

Of its 3,000 students, 70 percent are first-generation college students and 95 percent receive financial assistance. In order to maintain close relationships with their students, OLLU keeps class sizes small, with no more than 25 students in most courses. The students and faculty also enjoy a beautiful campus and are proud to call themselves the “Beacon of the Westside.”

Challenge: Student Enrollment and Brand Recognition

OLLU had been facing declining enrollments and was aware that it needed to take action to fulfill two critical goals: increase student enrollment and grow its brand presence beyond San Antonio and Texas while continuing its tradition of maintaining strong relationships with students.

University administrators realized that moving some of their most competitive programs online would be the ideal solution to reach students outside of San Antonio and to boost enrollments. This would extend the geographical reach of their service-focused programs, such as social work and counseling, allowing more individuals to better serve their own communities across the country and abroad—one of the University’s core values. Programs in other fields of study would also provide the opportunity to spread OLLU’s service- and community-oriented culture beyond the region. However, undertaking and maintaining such an involved project with very limited resources—especially a lack of funds to hire the necessary additional staff—would be challenging.

To accomplish this goal, OLLU wanted to find not just a vendor, but a true partner that would align with the university’s mission as well as its focus on inclusivity and service. “We are committed to social service, giving back, and making sure people have the resources they need,” said Marcheta Evans, PhD, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at OLLU. “Wiley helps us continue our mission.” OLLU also appreciated Wiley’s collaborative and personal approach, especially with such a small institution. Wiley had substantial experience working with many smaller colleges and universities and understood the nuances of serving this type of academic community.

As a result, OLLU and Wiley entered into a partnership in January 2012 to adapt three of OLLU’s programs for online learning.

The Strategy

In addition to providing the resources necessary to develop and launch OLLU’s programs online, Wiley worked closely with OLLU to identify and create efficiencies that would maximize the limited resources available on campus. These included:

  • Creating and communicating clear policies to simplify and streamline processes
  • Tracking student intakes and providing recommendations on how many sections to offer each term
  • Employing a field coordinator for the Master of Social Work program to support the high volume of field placements required for a growing number of enrolled students, as well as to train new campus coordinators.

The open communication between Wiley and OLLU was also key, building a strong foundation of trust that helped support the success of the partnership—even in the face of tension or unexpected obstacles. “The lines of communication between OLLU and Wiley are open, honest, and transparent. This means we can have the difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary because we can trust each other,” said Evans.

“I don’t think of Wiley as a vendor, but definitely more of a partner,” added Mo Cuevas, PhD, LCSW, Dean of the College of Professional Studies at OLLU. “I know I can call and ask questions or express concerns and that I will be answered quickly and fully because they value the relationship as much as we do.”

The Results

The introduction of online programs at OLLU significantly increased the school’s brand recognition outside of San Antonio and, as planned, resulted in more enrollments. “Our social work program, one of the first, if not the first social work program in Texas, was down to less than 100 students. Now it is over 800—we wouldn’t have been able to do that on our own. Partnering with Wiley pretty much saved the program,” said Evans. It has also become a truly national and international program, with students from 44 states and three countries outside the U.S.

Wiley-supported students at OLLU now account for 29.9 percent of the school’s overall enrollments and 59 percent of the school’s graduate enrollments as of the fall 2017 term. Evans and Cuevas emphasize that Wiley’s resources were integral to the marketing efforts that resulted in this growth. They were also impressed by the way Wiley incorporated OLLU’s branding and identity into marketing materials, going beyond just aligning colors and including logos to communicating the university’s unique culture. “They have the marketing capabilities, the power to get our name out there that we would not have been able to do on our own. They have resources that we could not tap,” said Evans. “Plus, the Wiley name has prestige, credibility, and access. . . . Without Wiley’s resources helping us in designing our classes, we would not have achieved the level of rigor or engagement that we have with students.”

While OLLU’s school of social work was well regarded already, its recognition has only increased. “In the social work educational community, we are now seen as a leader because of our size and because of the quality of our program,” said Cuevas.

Wiley has been able to support OLLU in furthering the school’s core mission of service to the community by bringing education to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity or access. The online program has substantially broadened OLLU’s reach and now provides education access to students in rural areas and to widespread military members.

Looking Ahead

In light of these highly successful results, OLLU and Wiley have extended the partnership to 2026. Part of this continuing partnership includes the launch of two new online programs in 2019. The MA in Counseling, available in fall 2019, will be divided into three tracks: School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling. In addition, thanks to the flexibility of the Wiley partnership model, OLLU has also been able to add services for other programs, based on Wiley’s fee-for-service offerings.

“We choose to continue this partnership because of the overwhelming success we have experienced and our trust in the relationship,” said Evans. “We know that we have people at Wiley who truly care about us and our success, and we can trust and communicate with them. The reality is we could not do this by ourselves. It’s a partnership that allows us to keep focusing on what we do best as teachers and educators, while Wiley provides the technical support, instructional designers and best practices.”

Wiley University Services Offerings

Wiley is responsible for these services in the OLLU partnership:

Market Assessment

Program Design and Development

Marketing and Brand Management


Enrollment Management

Student Retention Services

24×7 Help Desk

Institution’s Roles and Responsibilities

OLLU handles the following areas:

Curriculum and Content

Program Design and Development


Faculty & Instruction


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