Student Retention

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Student Retention is a topic of focus with everyone these days in universities and colleges. Not only is it an important measure of how successful the academic institution is viewed by shareholders, but it is important as a whole to society, and ultimately important to the student. Everyone at the academic institution is involved in retention of students whether they intend to be or not. Professors and instructors should be keenly aware that their engagement of students and their responses to students affect retention in their class and the students’ program or degree plan.


Professors and instructors can affect the learning outcomes of the student in a positive manner and retain students by using proactive methods. Some of the ways instructors engage students and positively affect retention are:

Learners will...

  • Communicate early, regularly, and professionally with students
  • Provide regular contact hours for students that need assistance
  • Be consistent when establishing guidelines and grading
  • Provide effective learning to students and engage them using multiple techniques
  • Update students on their progress in the class

Main Contents

Communication with students

Instructors should communicate early, regularly, and professionally with students. Students complain heavily about this area if instructors neglect this principle. It is a good idea to take the initiative and contact the students prior to the beginning of the class. This establishes the perception of credibility for the instructor, provides the student expectations of the class from the instructor, and demonstrates a proactive tone for the students. This is generally the first interaction between the instructor and the student; as such, a positive first attempt by the instructor will in most cases result in desired reciprocity from the student. Regular communication is important to continue the relationship with the student and class. This keeps everyone in the know about upcoming information, assignments, exams, and feedback from these activities. Instructors must at all times present themselves in a professional manner. Never take anything personally from students they ask questions or even comment in a negative manner. Typically, they are just frustrated at themselves. Always stay professional in your responses and use this as a teaching moment if necessary.

Contact hours

Instructors should provide regular contact hours for students that need assistance. It is a good policy to have virtual office hours for students to get in contact with you. Keep in mind that students in online classes struggle just like on-campus students, and need to the opportunity to converse with instructors and seek assistance as necessary. Students appreciate the efforts of instructors that have regular office hours.

Consistent guidelines and grading

Instructors should be consistent when establishing guidelines and grading. Students desire consistency in agreement with their perceptions of normal class guidelines. Essentially, the details need to be defined clearly and succinctly for the students to plan accordingly for the class. A clear set of guidelines can alleviate some of the unnecessary questions.

Effective learning and multiple techniques

Instructors should strive to provide effective learning to students and engage them using multiple techniques. One of the big problems facing online education is that instructors often feel disconnected from their students because of the complete lack of physical interaction. As a result, many instructors feel that they are simply facilitating a self-paced course for students, rather than actually teaching. This deprives students of effective learning opportunities and contributes to student attrition. Studies show that online courses where instructors provide community and collaborative learning are the most successful. As a result, instructors need to create online courses that are adapted for effective online learning, rather than simply putting a traditional course online. Instructors should limit student isolation and encourage integration and interaction among students, and also with himself/herself. Multiple techniques, such as individual projects, collaborative work, and instructor-student interaction, should be implemented.

Updates on progress

Instructors should update students on their progress in the class. Again, online courses should not be self-paced and self-taught by students. Interaction with the instructor and other students is imperative. The instructor needs to be actively involved in the learning process with each student. As a part of this, the instructor should comment on the student’s improvement and performance in the class. Offering positive feedback, constructive criticism, and general support will aid the student in knowing where to improve and what to build upon.

How To

Resources for implementing effective online courses that are pivotal to student retention are:

  • Kampov-Polevoi, Julia. 2010. Considerations for supporting faculty in transitioning a course to online format. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 13 (2).

  • Fisher, Mercedes, and Derek E. Baird. 2005. Online learning design that fosters student support, self-regulation, and retention. Campus-Wide Information Systems 22 (2): 88-107.
  • Lorenzo, George, and Janet Moore. 2002. The Sloan Consortium report to the nation: Five pillars of quality online education. Sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
  • Shanley, Kevin. 2009. Ten factors of student retention in online courses. Master’s thesis, Utah State University.

Possible Pitfalls

Instructors must realize their responsibility when it comes to student retention. Failure to implement practical and effective online teaching will only contribute to the continuing problem of student attrition. While there are many important factors in student retention that are outside the scope of the instructor, the instructor should make the most of the factors within the class realm. Failure to understand that online students need as much support, interaction, communication, consistency, and teaching as traditional students will only reduce the ability of the university to retain online students.