online student retention

Mark L. Parker, Associate Professor/Academic Director, UMUC
[email protected]
 Online Postsecondary Teaching & Learning in the
 Student Success & Retention
 Overview of UMUC: online programs, students, &
retention issues
 Examples of success & retention initiatives
 Template for evaluating your institution’s retention
But first. . .
Please chat in the letter of the statement below that best reflects
your institution's current situation regarding a formal online
student retention process.
A. We have nothing formal in place. We are just starting the
B. We have started to develop a plan (e.g., we have formed a
committee; we have surveyed faculty and/or students).
C. We’ve developed a plan but haven’t yet implemented any
retention/success initiatives.
D. We’ve developed a plan and have retention/success
initiatives underway.
E. Other (give us a brief description of where you are)
Online Postsecondary Education
According to Sloan-ALN, in 2010:
4.6 million students in the U.S. took at least one
online postsecondary course (up 17% from the
previous year);
> 20% of all U.S. higher ed students took at least
one online course.
Online has grown at 19.7% annually (on average)
over the last 5 years (by contrast, overall growth was
1.6 %),
Who are They?
• A very diverse group
• Somewhat more likely to be:
• Older, P/T students, at least P/T workers
• “First-in-Family” college students
• Speakers of ESL/EFL
• Coming to you with clearer, more pragmatic goals
• Pursuing a second credential (or none at all)
Why are they choosing online?
In almost all cases, convenience
• Working during the day
• Commuting
• Family obligations
• Proximity to a higher education institution
Student Success & Retention
Now a principal issue in the academy nationwide
 Financial aid implications (the new Higher
Education Act)
 Affordability
 Social implications (e.g. “the Achievement Gap”)
Student Success & Retention
The Current Approach
• “Student” = Young (18-22 y.o.), resident, F/T,
largely face-to-face courses
• “Success” = Course, Term & Degree Completion
• “Retention” = Time-to-Degree; returning students;
first-to-second year reenrollment rates
(undergrad); etc.
Student Success & Retention
The Current Approach
• Somewhat appropriate for institutions with such
• Far less appropriate for institutions with
significant numbers of “non-traditional” students
taking online or hybrid/blended courses
An Example: UMUC
University of Maryland University College
• Public institution (part of a state university
• Mission: offer higher educational opportunities to
adult students in Maryland, the U.S., and abroad
• Extensive use of online course, program, and
services delivery:
• In 2011: of 316,348 worldwide enrollments 234,243
were online (headcount = 96,342)
UMUC’s Online Students
No surprises here. . .
• Median Age = 32
• 58% are women
• 44% minorities (35% African-American)
• 92% work at least P/T
• At least 15% are SESL/SEFL
• Almost 50% of undergrads are “First-in-Family”
Why do they stay?
• Because they tend to be:
• Highly motivated
• Pursuing a clear goal
• Good at time and task management
• And because we provide them with a full package
of online support services:
• Technology
• Library
• Student services
Support Services
• Digital Library Services include:
• > 230 journal databases (most full-text)
• 24/7 access to librarians
• Training in the use of digital library resources
• Technology Services include:
• 24/7 Helpdesk (chat, phone, e-mail)
• Training/orientation in use of LMS and other technologies
• Student Services include:
• Student Portal (application, registration, advising, FA)
• Allied services (e.g. online Effective Writing Center)
Why do they leave?
In a word, BARRIERS
• Personal (jobs, health, families)
• Financial (availability of tuition remission & FA)
• Academic (prior education, technology fluency)
The institution can help students overcome some
(but by no means all) of these barriers
Some examples from UMUC and other
First, let’s define our terms:
Retention = Persistence + Success
Persistence: The continuation by a student in a course for
which she is registered and in which she is maintaining
satisfactory academic progress.
Success: The completion of a course and subsequent receipt
of a passing or satisfactory grade (enabling continuation in
future academic sessions)
(You’ll notice that the above definitions address courses, but
the same framework can be applied to programs)
Some examples from UMUC and other
For purposes of gathering data and analyzing
retention rates:
Persistence is usually signified by a grade other than
“W” or its equivalent.
Success is usually signified by a grade equal to or
surpassing the institution’s minimum level of
satisfactory academic progress (a grade other than
“F” or “Unsat. [U]” at the undergraduate level)
Therefore attrition, which is the opposite of
retention, is often calculated as “W + F”
Some examples from UMUC
UMUC’s Formal Retention Initiative
• Begun in 2001
• Managed by a Steering Committee consisting of the
Provost (chair) and representatives of:
• The Schools
• Student Affairs/Services
• Library
• Financial Aid Office
• Budget Office
• Institutional Research
Some examples from UMUC
The Process at UMUC
Gather and analyze data
Where attrition is high, identify potential
barriers to persistence & success
Develop and carry out interventions to help
students overcome barriers
Evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions
Some examples from UMUC
UMUC Example 1
• In 2003 we discovered that attrition of online
students who enrolled in 1st week of class was 13%
higher than that of students who enrolled at least 1
week prior to start of class.
• Faculty confirmed that late registrants were
unprepared (e.g. textbooks, technology)
• We eliminated the option to register during 1st
week (except for drop/add)
Some Examples from UMUC
Example 2
• In 2003 we found that the attrition rate of ‘new’ online
students was significantly higher than that of
‘returning’ online students.
• We also found the number of contacts with the
technology help desk by new students was
significantly higher than those of returning students.
• Faculty confirmed that new students were reporting
problems using the LMS.
• We implemented a mandatory orientation session
for new online students.
Examples from other institutions
A 2-year Institution
• Of the 10 most common 100-level “general ed”
courses, PSY 100’s attrition rate was 58% (average
of other courses was 24%)
• Analysis revealed that the course was designed for
majors and had a heavy quantitative research
• The department created a new 100-level course
more suitable for non-majors
Examples from other institutions
A 4-year Public Institution
(This one is a cautionary tale. . .)
• Launched an initiative to re-enroll “drop-outs” (students
who hadn’t registered for class for more than the
allowed 3-semester “stop-out” period)
• Expensive telephone/e-mail/snail-mail blitz to dropouts
• Re-enrollment rate for 4- to 6-semester drop-outs was
51% (good ROI)
• Re-enrollment rate for > 6-semester drop-outs was 9%
(poor ROI)
• If they’re out too long, not worth going after them.
Examples from other institutions
A 4-year Private Institution
(Another cautionary tale. . .)
• Retention rates across master’s programs
averaged 63%, but MBA was almost 96%!
• MBA was a cohort-based, lock-step accelerated
program with a “boot camp” foundational course
• Institution attempted to modify other master’s
programs to resemble MBA; for a variety of
reasons, it didn’t work
• Lesson learned? There are no silver bullets.
Bringing it all together
• Let’s look at a possible framework for you to use at
your institution.
• First principles:
• The primacy of mission
• The role that online teaching & learning play in helping to
fulfill that mission
• The extent to which the institution can reasonably help
students to overcome barriers to persistence & success
• The extent to which all organizations within the institution
participate in the retention initiative
The Template Document
• It is one of many possible guides
• Its purpose is to get you and your colleagues
talking about key issues related to retention at
your institution
• It is not carved in stone; modify it to suit your
institution, its mission, and its involvement in
online teaching & learning
• If used, it should be updated periodically to reflect
changes in the institution, the technology, etc.
The Framework
• Stage I: The Background
• Mission
• Online teaching & learning
• Data
• Stage II: The Process
• Determine student characteristics
• Identify barriers
• Develop & pilot initiatives
• Measure results and modify
Best Practices
. . . or, stuff we learned (usually the hard way) at UMUC
1. Ensure that any retention initiatives are institution-
wide efforts (i.e. involve all actual or potential
Pilot the initiatives first
Use empirical data for decision-making
To the extent possible, aim for scalability
Use a student-centered approach
A Note about Benchmarking
• It’s tempting to want to conduct external
benchmarking for retention/success
• If you choose to do so, think carefully about
• whether or not you do in fact have any peer institutions
with regard to online teaching & learning;
• whether or not you can obtain reliable retention data from
your peer institutions; and
• whether or not such data will really tell you anything
useful about your institution.
Wrap Up
1. Online teaching & learning is here to stay.
2. It allows you to serve not only more students but
different types of students.
3. Those students have different needs when it
comes to ensuring persistence and success.
4. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions; you’ll have
to innovate and experiment based on what you
learn from your data.
5. Despite some of the challenges, this is very much
worth doing!
Thank you very much, and I would love
to hear your questions/comments!
If you have questions or comments after today:
[email protected]

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