Thursday, September 23, 2010

Preventing online dropouts: Does anything work?

You can improve retention, and the University of Illinois at Springfield has done so by assigning staff members to serve as informal advisers and advocates for online students, says Ray Schroeder, director of the Center for Online Learning, Research, and Service.

Called program coordinators—different colleges have varying names for the position—these advisers basically become the on-campus "best friend" of online students. They help them navigate the university bureaucracy and facilitate communication with professors. They might work with the financial aid office to find a program that can help, for example, or negotiate an "incomplete," an extension to finish the class.

"In many cases, just having a sympathetic 'sounding board' for a student who feels isolated at a distance can help the student to know that they are not alone," Mr. Schroeder says in an e-mail to Wired Campus. "Without that connection, an isolated, distant student may simply drop out."

Online student peer mentors are effective, too, Mr. Schroeder says.

UIS online learning was featured in a September 22, 2010, article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Download a PDF of the article