Online Course Prioritization Guide

10 Strategies for Promoting Enrollment Growth and Student Success

Topics: Program Prioritization, Academic Planning, Academic Affairs, Online Course Quality, Online Education, Course Scheduling, Academic Calendar, Capacity Planning, Student Retention and Success, Degree Progress, Online Strategies

Withdrawal Redirect Courses

An Alternative Pathway to Keep Students On Track


When undergraduate students drop a traditional, full-term course or withdraw after the drop deadline, they often encounter several obstacles that may delay their academic progress:

  • Falling below full-time enrollment status and losing financial aid eligibility
  • Delaying completion of a critical prerequisite by one or more terms
  • Struggling to catch up in new courses after missing the first several class sessions


Offer accelerated online courses for students who drop or withdraw early in a term, allowing them to maximize their course load, prevent delays in degree progress, and enroll without burdensome schedule constraints.

Opportunity diagnostic

To estimate the impact of course withdrawals on student persistence at your institution, institutional research staff should ask the following questions:

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Implementation Guidelines

Course selection

When selecting candidates for an accelerated course option, prioritize lower-division courses that (a) have large enrollments, (b) enroll a higher-than-average share of students that are receiving financial aid, (c) meet a general education requirement, and (d) are prerequisites required in a major or program.

Faculty allocation

Department chairs should assess the capacity of current faculty to offer additional "withdrawal redirect" sessions:

  • How many faculty fall short of their planned course load each term?
  • Which of those faculty are able to teach prioritized courses?


Proactive and timely intervention from advisors is critical in locating at-risk students, informing them of accelerated, online alternatives, and placing them in the best option prior to the secondary term period.

  • The University of Alabama advertises "Fall II" courses in posters around campus and through advisor notifications to ensure student awareness.
  • Restrict registration for withdrawal redirect courses to the students who need them most by limiting or prohibiting proactive registration (prior to the start of a traditional term). This avoids cannibalization of existing courses and over-enrollment of students registering for convenience, rather than necessity.
  • Advanced: Automate the process by creating an automatic email message to students who drop, withdraw, or miss the registration deadline, notifying them of the institution’s portfolio of accelerated alternatives. This reduces the burden on advisors to identify and reach every eligible student.


Many institutions lack financial incentives for offering individual online courses during traditional terms (revenue splits with units, course development funds, overload pay, or per-headcount bonus pay may apply only to full academic programs or intersessions, for example), which can make it difficult to grow and sustain withdrawal redirect options over time. It is important to anticipate this and provide adequate incentive for both units and faculty to accommodate demand, either through targeted seed funding or by making these courses eligible for existing reward programs.


Often, there is no central "owner" or coordinator of traditional term online courses, as is typically the case for summer sessions or continuing education programs; adoption and implementation is left to each academic unit. It is therefore critical that the provost’s office play a role in coordinating and sustaining this activity across campus to ensure that students have the broadest menu of options available. In most cases, the College of Arts and Sciences will play the most important role in lower-division general education, so its involvement is key to success.

Case Study

Several departments at the University of Alabama have addressed the challenges associated with withdrawals by creating accelerated, online course options for students who drop or withdraw within the first five weeks of a 15-week term. Designated as “Fall II,” this shorter session is not visible to students during initial registration to prevent them from proactively opting into the abbreviated online format intended for the students in need of a flexible alternative.

While it can be difficult to match instructor supply with last-minute student demand each term, department chairs have been relatively successful at predicting the most likely withdrawal candidates and appropriate online alternatives, drawing on a supply of available faculty able to teach high-enrollment courses.

As student performance analytics improve, both faculty and advising professionals will have more tools at their disposal (LMS triggers, early alerts, risk scoring) to provide the optimal mix of withdrawal redirect options for students in shorter and shorter time windows.

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Online Course Consortia

Online Orientation Modules