Unlearning the Past: New Foundations for Online Student Retention

Roy Sutton, Ph.D., Jones International University, Centennial, Colorado, USA


Many factors affect students selecting a university to attend and almost as many factors that can
present challenges once they enroll and begin attending classes. Once they start taking courses,
the next challenge is completing them, and this can be particularly taxing for online students. In
the case of online universities, quality assessment criteria of the online courses and faculty may
vary. Thus, it is important not only to get feedback from students, but also to look at course
completion rates. The purpose of this paper is to share lessons learned regarding factors that
significantly increased student online course completion rates at one online for-profit university.
This study looked at a researcher's search for strategic factors that considerably increase course
completion rates and identified assessment strategies to improve those course completion rates.
The researcher’s collaboration with researchers from another university led to findings that
revealed best practices and assessments factors successfully applied in online courses.
Administrative changes at the researcher’s university led to retention efforts that have positively
affected student retention. One major factor observed by the researcher included analytical
writing assessments and their predictive value for doctoral student retention. Results of the
implementation of the changes at the researcher’s university included a 39% increase in retention
of first year doctoral candidates, from a low of 39% in 2011 to 75% in 2012.


Higher education administration, online student retention, collaborative research,
assessment strategies, doctoral student completion rates

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