Advancing Retention and Engagement Strategies Through Effective Online Mediums

Advancing Retention and Engagement Strategies Through Effective Online Mediums

Amanda Eakins, Sheldon L. Eakins
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7021-9.ch004
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Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the USA continue to play a pivotal role in educating students within the African diaspora as they provide a practical and resourceful platform for students to develop a sense of belonging through community and organizational outreach activities on campus. However, the student population in higher education as we used to know has changed, and adult learners now make up a large majority of the enrolled population. This chapter aims to review the history of online education and will provide a conceptual framework for incorporating online learning in an institution's student success plan for both their traditional and non-traditional students. The author will also review the needs of the adult learners and provide an overview of how the development and integration of online learning programs and collaborative efforts with other institutions through dual enrollment and degree MOU programs can foster growth at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
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The practice of Distance Education dates back more than 160 years with what we first came to know as correspondence study (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2014). Since then, education media for teaching and learning have advanced, and we have experienced several disruptive technologies that have altered the way we conduct teaching and learning in academe. These tools include Mobile Learning (M-Learning), Game-Based Learning, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Unlike M-Learning and Game-Based learning, MOOCs are arguably the future of online learning (Simonson et al., 2014); however, the most widely used is online learning. Although all of the disruptive technologies noted above can support student retention and engagement strategies at HBCUs, for this chapter, the authors will focus on online learning.

Online learning is an ever-expanding phenomenon in education, as, over the past decade, institutions have been creating increasing numbers of online degree programs. However, it is important to note that, while the enrollment in online degree programs are flat or declining in for-profit institutions, more students are enrolling in online degree programs at non-profit public and private institutions (See Figure 1. Enrollment in Online Degree Programs: Public and Private Sector Trends from 2012 to 2016).

Figure 1.

Enrollment in Online Degree Programs: Public and Private Sector Trends from 2012 to 2016

(Data Retrieved from WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) Frontiers, 2018).


Despite the many barriers, online training has many positive attributes (Bhagat, Leon, & Chun-Yen, 2016), such as “convenience, flexibility, and financial benefits” (Dabbagh, 2007, cited in Kuo & Belland, 2016). Online learning is here to stay and should be integrated into colleges and universities’ recruitment, matriculation, and retention plans. While these advances are not without challenges, more students are enrolling in online classes than in traditional programs (Allen & Seaman, 2016), and more institutions are adding online education as a factor to their strategic plans (Allen, Seaman, Lederman, & Jaschik, 2012).

According to Simonson et al. (2015), approximately five million students are enrolled in an online program in higher education, with African Americans making up 19% of that population (, 2015). Considering the number of African American students in online programs, restricting the marketing and recruitment plan of HBCUS to be more inclusive of reaching the online learner can have tremendous benefits to the growth of an institutions overall enrollment. As such as we discuss the recruitment opportunities, we must also address opportunities for increasing student retention.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Asynchronous Learning: Instruction that occurs in which the instructor and the students are noted as participating in the course in a different time and different place.

Online Learning: Teaching and learning facilitated through technology in which most of the instruction happens through a learning management system (LMS).

Adult Learners: Students enrolled in at a post-secondary institution who did not attend college directly after graduating high school. This group of students often have families and are already in the workforce.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Programs: Programs that are developed in collaboration and partnership with external units to maximize the school’s potential and to provide more degree options to enrolled students. MOUs are typically 3+2 or 4+1 programs. Hence, students may enroll in an MOU program that allows them to complete their bachelor’s requirements in three years and their master’s courses in the later five, thereby minimizing the total amount of time to earn a masters to five years compared to the traditional six years.

Learning Management System (LMS): A platform that allows for the delivery of pedagogic instruction though the uses of technology.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Open enrollment courses that are accessible to students through an online learning medium. These courses typically do not have admissions requirements in order to access the curriculum. Courses within this platform can be categorized as connectivist (cMOOCs) and professor-centered (xMOOCs).

Dual Enrollment: A college-level course taught by a higher education instructor in which a high school student receives both high school and college credit concurrently.

Socialization: The process in which a student’s environment prepares them for academic and workplace integration.

Dual Credit: A college-level course taught by a high school instructor in which a high school student receives both high school and college credit concurrently.

Disruptive Technology: Any technology that threatens the traditional mode of instruction in education.

Traditional Programs: Academic programs that are taught in a classroom style set-up in which the instructor and the students are present in the same location at the same time.

Distance Education: Includes education that happens outside of the traditional norms of learning to include correspondence learning and online learning.

Traditional Students: Students who are enrolled in a program or classes in which the majority of their instruction is provided in a face-to-face format. Traditional students are typically under the age of 24 and have entered higher education directly after their high school graduation.

Learning Management Systems (LMS): Online platforms that support the delivery of instruction. This platform allows for student-student and student-faculty interactions.

Hybrid Learning: Often used interchangeably with blended learning. This style of learning fuses face-to-face instruction with online learning.

Sense of Community: The process in which a student feels connected academically and socially to the institution they are enrolled in, at the departmental, college, and at-large community.

Synchronous Learning: Instruction that occurs at the same time and in the same space, often in the traditional classroom.

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