Charting a Path to Persistence

Strategic interventions for adult and online learners

Thirteen best practices to help COE leaders monitor stop-out risk in adult and online learners, encourage re-enrollment, and facilitate adult degree completion.

Charting a Path to Persistence

A plurality of college students are now considered to be non-traditional, driving many governing and accrediting bodies to steer the conversation of student success towards part-time, working adult students. For many COE units, the challenge is minimizing stop-outs through early-warning triggers or innovative advising models; for others, retention is defined as ensuring past students become "repeat" enrollees for their next educational need.

This study will help you do both. Download the complete publication or explore the table of contents below to learn three forces elevating non-traditional student persistence, three models for supporting COE student success, and 13 best practices to encourage adult degree completion.

A not-so "non-traditional" experience

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) designates more than 70% of currently enrolled postsecondary students as having one or more characteristics of a non-traditional learner, noting that these students are automatically at higher risk for attrition than their traditional counterparts.

Preventing stop-outs and promoting persistence is arguably hardest for those serving adult and online learners, as retention and graduation strategies that work well for traditional, campus-based students have only partial applicability for working adults, who often have little connection to an institution and face competing demands on their time. Lacking sufficient resources to duplicate the robust support resources of the main campus, most continuing, professional, and online education units require effective yet lower-cost approaches to meeting student needs.

Identifying a practical approach to persistence is all the more urgent as a growing number of prospective students seek evidence of academic, financial, and career outcomes when choosing among programs and institutions. The three most important considerations for adult and online learners continue to be convenience and flexibility of offerings, financial assistance and affordability, and the academic reputation and outcomes of the institution. Enrollment (and revenue) gains are increasingly reserved for those continuing, professional, and online education units that best demonstrate an institutional commitment to adult and online learner success.

Three retention disciplines for continuing, professional, and online education

Promoting persistence among adult and online learners requires:

  • Monitoring indicators of students’ financial, academic, and engagement risk and embedding intervention and follow-up into instructor and advisor workflow
  • Encouraging re-enrollment by tracking term-to-term persistence and securing advance permission to contact students following necessary stop-out periods
  • Facilitating adult degree completion by eliminating both real and perceived barriers to enrollment through proactive outreach campaigns, simplified readmission procedures, and special financial incentives

This study details 13 strategic interventions to help you accomplish these three aspects of adult learner success.

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