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How to Increase Retention Rates for Online-Only Students Open Access

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In Fall of 2015, 14.4% of all degree-seeking post-secondary students were enrolled in online-only programs (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2017). However, studies have shown that online student retention rates are as low as 50-60% (Gravel, 2012). Current research shows that efforts to increase retention are minimal at best. The theory behind this study is drawn from research that focuses on the experience of online-only students in higher education as it relates to the retention rates for that population, as well as those studies encompassing retention in general. Many practitioners and researchers have tackled this subject from various perspectives in recent years. Research was drawn from studies and articles published within the last 10 years, in either peer-reviewed journals or from nationally recognized higher education organizations and publications (American Council on Education or The Chronicle of Higher Education, for example). The main factors that contribute to online-only student retention are a strong sense of community among students (Dunworth, 2012; Sutton, 2014; Mannay & Wilcock, 2015), engaging interactions with faculty and staff (Gravel, 2012; Sutton, 2014; de Freitas, 2015), and strong writing skills (Sutton, 2014). Going forward, practitioners can anticipate the biggest challenges in online student retention to be addressing student underpreparedness for the rigor of a degree program, finding ways to foster community from afar, and aiding students with computer literacy skills. Increased retention for online students will lead to higher success rates in accessible higher education opportunities for diverse and widespread students; therefore, it is of utmost importance to specifically target online students in retention efforts across higher education. A poster presentation will be followed by time for questions and/or discussion.

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