Photo of a female students with textbooks, computer and an apple. In this module we explore two related issues for online and hybrid educators: student retention and faculty development.

Although the two topics are not mutually exclusive, we will concentrate on student retention in the first section and faculty development in the second.

In both sections we provide theoretical perspectives and practical strategies for implementation.



Learning Objectives

At the end of this module, participants will be able to:

Glossary of Key Terms

Photo of a dictionary definition. Attrition – Term used to describe a decline in the number of students from the beginning to the end of a course, program or attendance at an educational institution.

Persistence - The result of a student's decision to continue to participate in a learning event.

Retention - Continued student participation in a learning event through to completion.


Big Idea - Student Retention

There is little doubt online courses provide students in K-12 schools and higher education with greater options for completing educational programs. Despite the exponential growth of online courses in education, student retention is an area ofImage of a laptop in front of a traditional college setting. concern.

Historically, the percentage of students who drop out of brick and mortar higher education has held constant at between 40-45% for the past 100 years (Tinto, 1982).

Within the context of online learning, research suggests dropout rates are generally 10-20% higher (Carr, 2000; Diaz, 2002; Frankola, 2001).

The percentage of high school students who drop out of traditional high schools is also high.

According to the most recent study from the IDRA, Texas schools lost 31% of their high school students in 2008. That's one student every four minutes.

Big Idea - Student Retention

Photo of a student thinking in front of a computer Recognizing factors that influence a student's performance and decision to drop-out may help educators have a positive impact on a student's decision-making process. Click each bullet for a list of factors related to student retention in higher education.


Big Idea - Student Retention

Student retention is a complex issue. Not all students are alike, nor are institutions. When 500 dropouts, ages 16-25, were interviewed in Delaware in 2006, they gave many reasons for leaving traditional academic settings:




Not motivated to work hard.


Classes were not interesting.


Entered high school not academically prepared.


Missed too many days to catch up.


Were failing.


Left to get a job.


Left to become parents.


Left to take care of a relative.

 Virtual high schools around the country are doing their best to provide alternatives for students who may be struggling in traditional environments.

Here's How – Student Retention

In the following video, Regina Owens, Spring ISD Virtual School Administrator outlines intervention strategies for students who may be struggling with their coursework.

Here's How – Student Retention

On the following pages we outline more strategies that may help:chess pieces

Strategy 1 - Communicate

Strategy 2 - Support Services


Here's How – Student Retention

Photo of two students in a computer lab with a teacher helping them. Strategy 3 – Readiness Surveys

Strategy 4 – Technical Training

Strategy 5 – Professional Development


From the Field - Student Retention

In the following video, Karen Miner, Director, Achieve the Dream at Lone Star College System, The Woodlands, TX talks about further steps faculty can implement to help students find success in an online course.

From the Field – Student Retention

According to Tinto (1999), most institutions do not take student retention seriously, "Student attrition represents huge potential losses to the individuals, their families, and society as a whole."

In this section we have looked at issues related to student retention and provided some practical strategies on how to help students find success. We invite you to share your insights and further suggestions below.

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: In your experience, are attrition rates for online students much higher than in traditional courses? What are some of student retention strategies or programs you have seen work in the past?

Complete the review exercise before proceeding to the next section.

 Hyperlink to Flash Card Activity 

Big Idea – Faculty Development

Photo of a teacher listening to collegue Student retention is just one of many educational concerns.

Retaining quality online instructors is also a consideration many researchers and institutions are starting to address.

Increased growth in the number of online options available to students inevitably leads to a demand for quality instructors.

In this section we highlight faculty development in online learning.





Here's How – Faculty Development

In the following video, Regina Owens highlights four key areas for faculty development in online instruction.


Here's How – Faculty Development

Photo of an adult audience listening to a lecture. For faculty transitioning from traditional classrooms to hybrid or online classrooms, professional development is a necessity.

Access to shared stories, ideas and strategies is at the core of professional development and a cornerstone to effective practice.

In this final section we will hear from an experienced practitioner talk about what it was like when she first started to teach, and also review several professional development communities you might find helpful.

Discussion icon

Discussion Question: What types of professional development experiences do you feel are the most powerful for new and/or experienced teachers?



From the Field - Faculty Development

In the following video, Dr. Vanessa Davis, Assistant Director of Academic Programs at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in Austin, TX, discusses the importance of professional development.

From the Field – Faculty Development

Throughout the course of these modules we have included many links to professional development groups. Below are some further resources you may wish to consider:Library

Discussion icon
Discussion Question: What other professional development organizations would you recommend? 



In this module we have reviewed issues related to student retention and provided a brief overview of issues related to faculty development.

The following Drag N' Drop exercise summarizes key points in the module.

Please complete it before moving on to the Final Assessment. Discussion Questions for this module are available in the sidebar.

 Hyperlink to DragNDrop Activity 



Braxton, J. (2000). Reworking the student departure puzzle. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Carr, S. (2000). As distance education comes of age, the challenge is keeping the students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 23, A1.

Diaz, D. (2002). Online Drop Rates Revisited, The Technology Source. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from

Frankola, K. (2001). Why online learners drop out. Workforce, 80, 53-58.

Hill, C. (2009). Factors that Affect Online Student Retention, Faculty Focus. Retrieved November 8, 2009 from

Hill, C. (2009). How to Retain Online Instructors, Faculty Focus. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

Johnson, R. (2009). Overall Attrition Rate Declines, But Gaps Persist Among Racial and Ethnic Groups, Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2008-09. Intercultural Development Research Association. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from http//

Lowes, S. (2005). Online teaching and classroom change: the impact of virtual high school on its teachers and their schools. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates.

Pytel, B. (2006). Dropouts Give Reasons, Suite Retrieved November 7, 2009 from

Schaffhauser, D. (2009). Survey Reports Many Online Learners Never Seek Help Before Dropping Out. Campus Technology. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from

Student (2005). Retention 101-Why Students Leave. Retrieved November 7, 2009 from

Tinto, V. (1982). Limits of theory and practice in student attrition. Journal of Higher Education, 53, 6 : p.687-700.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Final Assessment

Please complete the following before proceeding to the next module. Click on each question to begin.

 Question 1

 Question 2

 Question 3

 Question 4