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The Role of Student Characteristics in Predicting Retention in Online Courses

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Research in Higher Education Volume 55, Number 1, ISSN 0361-0365


Given the continued issue of student retention for online classes, past research has suggested several "retention strategies" focused on engaging students as a way to reduce their withdrawal rate from these classes. However, a recent study testing the effects of these strategies on retention in online undergraduate business courses (Leeds et al., "Int J Manage Educ" 7(1/2), 2013) did not show empirical support for the effectiveness of such strategies. Taking an alternative approach that focuses on individual characteristics of students, this study takes a broader view and examines previous research literature on traditional face-to-face classes to determine how individual characteristics of students may be associated with the likelihood of withdrawal from online classes. Using a sample of undergraduate students (n = 2,314) from a large state university, results from this study identified prior performance in college classes (cumulative GPA) and class standing (senior vs. non-senior) as significant student characteristics related to student retention in online classes for all students. Other factors significantly related to retention rates for students with certain characteristics or within certain majors include previous withdrawal from online courses, gender, and receipt of academic loans.


Cochran, J.D., Campbell, S.M., Baker, H.M. & Leeds, E.M. (2014). The Role of Student Characteristics in Predicting Retention in Online Courses. Research in Higher Education, 55(1), 27-48. Retrieved February 28, 2021 from .

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