Retention and persistence are at the forefront of higher education. For some educators, the word “retention” is academic-speak for lowering standards so all learners can pass. Not so. As educators, there is an opportunity to impact retention by developing a positive learning experience for our learners. While learners can and should take ownership for learning, there are small adjustments educators can make to classroom management techniques and teaching practices to increase engagement and foster community.
Who is at Risk?
Horton (2015) described learners at risk of not completing their courses are those who show signs of being academically under-prepared. Additional identifying risk factors include:
- First generation
- Low socioeconomic status
- Learning disability
- Unrealistic expectations of college
Manageable Techniques to Increase Engagement
Take attendance. Who is missing? Why have they missed? Reaching out to absent learners with a positive tone increases rapport and demonstrates your interest in the student’s success (Frisby et al., 2014).
Speak up early. For learners who are struggling and/or absent from class, connect with an adviser or use
CMU's Take CARE process.
Establish clear expectations while also being flexible for learners who struggle to grasp concepts. In such cases, extra time to complete assignments may be key to retaining a learner who may feel like giving up.
Discussion-based learning. Utilize discussion-driven learning to foster a sense of community.
Connect with a success coach. Conveniently located in a variety of locations around campus, success coaches assist learners to achieve both academic and personal goals. Per internal data, 95% of learners coached would recommend the support to a friend or classmate.
Use the Online Student Allies. The Online Student Allies are CMU learners who have been trained and have successfully completed online courses.
Online Ally eLearning Resources provide learners with helpful tips and best practices.
- Know your student resources. The Office of Student Affairs has provided a list of student-facing resources (e.g., Counseling Center, Math Assistance Center, Writing Center) and their area of oversight. Consider sharing this information in your Blackboard shell and syllabus.
Be an Advocate
Create a culture of inclusion, one that is welcoming and supportive. While you deliver the best-in-class support, be intentional about holding office hours to individually mentor learners. As you identify gaps in learners’ performance, connect learners to campus services for additional support. Your advocacy will graduate more learners, at reduced cost, with better outcomes.
- To see what events we may be offering related to retention, check out our CIS Events Page
- Schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss retention in your course.
Elliott, D., Gaminio, M., Jenkins, J.J. (2016). Creating community in the college classroom: Best practices for increased student success.
International Journal of Education and Social Science, 3(6).
Frisby, B.N., Berger, E., Burchett, M., Herovic, E. & Strawser, M.G. (2014). Participation apprehensive students: The influence of face support and instructor-student rapport on classroom participation. Communication Education, 63
Horton, J. (2015). Identifying at-risk factors that affect college student success.
International Journal of Process Education
, 7(1). Retrieved from
Meyerson, D., Weick, K. E., & Kramer, R. M. (1996). Swift trust and temporary groups. In R. M. Kramer & T. R. Tyler (Eds.),
Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research
(pp. 166-195). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.
Vesely, P., Bloom, L., & Sherlock, J. (2007). Key elements of building online community: Comparing faculty and student perceptions.
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