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.