With over two decades of expertise in online education, Ruru Rusmin excels in seamlessly integrating technology into teaching and learning. Her passion lies in supporting students who may have paused their education but aspire to complete their degrees, facilitating access to sustainable job opportunities. Ruru’s impressive knowledge and experience has left its mark at esteemed institutions like Hong Kong Baptist City University, the University of Hong Kong, Bergen County Community College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Currently, she serves as the Assistant Dean of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology at CUNY School of Professional Studies, playing a key role in developing and implementing successful strategies.

CUNY School of Professional Studies, one of 25 CUNY schools, was founded 20 years ago to serve working adults and employers. In 2006, it launched its first online bachelor’s degree program and has since become a leading online education provider in the CUNY system, recognized by US News and World Report for top-ranked programs in psychology and business.

As we embark on the first installment of our stop-out webinar series, we’re delighted to have Ruru Rusmin and myFootpath CEO J.T. Allen joining us to explore the data behind this often-overlooked demographic. Hosted by Gerry Henley, Former Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Technology Services at California State University, this discussion aims to uncover the hurdles these students face and explore the solutions offered by myFootpath.


Ruru: CUNY serves approximately 3,600 students across 26 undergraduate and master’s degree programs. Our student body primarily consists of working adults, typically in their twenties, thirties, and forties, with the majority holding part-time jobs. Many are part-time students due to full-time work commitments, caregiving responsibilities, or other obligations. Notably, our demographics are predominantly female, a common trend in similar programs. Although we offer fully online degrees, the majority of our students are in the New York metro area and are familiar with the CUNY brand. While we have a diverse global student base, the local presence is strong.

When connecting to students through marketing recruitment, we want to make sure we’re meeting that particular population’s needs. We emphasize flexibility, affordability, and educational value. We also specialize in the busy adult learner, highlighting that we’re a good match for them. We have particular programs and approaches that are going to be a match for their needs. We should not perceive their journey as the standard path taken by recent high school graduates; instead, we should provide them with a distinct pathway to reconnection.

Gerry: With the significant number of students, how important is the data in helping you shape strategic priorities and develop strategies to support student re-enrollment and degree completion?

Ruru: We use data to look at where we want to strategically apply our efforts. We regularly access reports on the New York metro area, which are generated by the university. These reports provide us with valuable insights into the current job market, including in-demand skills, occupations with job openings, and degree preferences. So that’s produced by the university and it gives us an insight into which occupations have openings, especially for current and upcoming graduates, as well as what skills people are looking for in the labor market.

This data enables us to focus our efforts effectively and tailor our approach to each student, building a case that ties degree or certificate completion to monetary outcomes. We also examine the data and establish partnerships with community colleges that have recently graduated students, alumni with degrees, and those who earned their associate’s degrees some time ago. We target these individuals and highlight the abundant opportunities in these areas if they choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Lastly, we utilize data regarding in-demand skills to ensure that our programs align with market needs.

Gerry: One of the key points you mentioned is the significance of offering high-touch services tailored to specific populations. I can relate to the challenges I faced in my previous role, where it was always a struggle to determine how to allocate staffing resources to ensure a high-quality experience that aligned with prospective students’ schedules and needs.

Could you please share your insights on how you manage to maintain an efficient and cost-effective service within a state institution? Are there any best practices you can impart to us?

Ruru: I believe a key to success is being highly responsive to our students and staying attuned to their needs. For instance, one of the most valued aspects for our students is flexibility. This is not only something they express, but we also recognize its significance. Our programs are entirely online and fully asynchronous, although there are optional synchronous components available. Many students find this asynchronous flexibility crucial, as even mandatory synchronous meetings can create scheduling conflicts for them. Flexibility extends not only to course formats but also to the high-touch, personalized attention we provide, which our working adult students truly appreciate.

Many of these busy adult learners don’t have time to deal with a lot of heavy bureaucracy, so how do we identify the points in the student journey where bureaucracy is going to be a struggle? For example with the admissions process, you can look at that and identify where the bottlenecks are so we can address those pain points.

It ultimately boils down to targeting the students and being willing to explore innovative approaches. At our school, our attitude is always geared toward identifying areas of concern, listening to our students when they encounter difficulties, and initiating small-scale pilots to assess potential process improvements or solutions. These small experiments allow us to gauge outcomes. Returning to the overarching theme of data, we analyze the results, and if a strategy proves effective, we proceed with its implementation.

Eager to learn more from Ruru about the stop-out demographic? Watch the full recording of webinar 1 to dive deeper into the research and explore innovative strategies that successfully reengage stop-outs.