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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

National Dialog on Student Retention: Student Engagement and Institutional Involvement

The question of how institutions can do more to address retention in online education programs was addressed at the inaugural National Dialog on Student Retention (NDSR) Conference. Hosted and organized by EducationDynamics (, the event brought together thought-leaders from colleges and universities, who presented the results of research as well as lessons learned at their institutions.


The event, which focused on both for-profit and not-for-profit institutions, identified the reasons when and why adult learners stay enrolled in their online programs, and the factors that help them succeed and make satisfactory academic progress.

In order to pinpoint the conditions in which adult students thrive, it is also necessary to take a close look at why and when they do not thrive. Online programs designed for adults will face different challenges than programs that are hybrid, or which address more "traditional" students. The speakers who made presentations at the conference specifically addressed many of those issues.

The program and the presenters are included in the website:

The site has been updated to include links to the conference presentations.

Video and audio recordings of featured sessions are available for download:

For many of the experts, the key to retention is student engagement. Dr. George Kuh presented what he referred to as the "Student Engagement Trinity" in his keynote speech:

Retention has to do with the "Student Engagement Trinity" -

1. What students do – time and energy devoted to educationally purposeful activities;

2. What institutions do – using effective practices to induce students to do the right things; and

3. Educationally effective institutions channel student energy toward the right activities.

More of Dr. Kuh’s comments can be found in an article called "Is Retention Improvement Within Colleges’ Reach?" at

It is worth noting that the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), has archives of the results of its survey from 1999.

All reports reinforce the reality that student engagement is a powerful factor in retention. The NSSE was conceived in early 1998 and supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The NSSE conducted a successful pilot in 1999 that involved more than 75 selected colleges and universities. The last round of the NSSE included more than 300 institutions.

It is useful to note that student engagement is rarely a grassroots kind of endeavor, unless the conditions are such that social networking can be used to establish true collaborative learning. Even then, the most successful attempts to boost student engagement have to do with the pro-active stance of the institution, which must invest a variety of resources. In this endeavor, creative and innovative approaches can yield tremendous payoffs.

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