Over the past decade, enrollment in higher education for online courses has steadily increased and at a significantly higher rate than ground campuses (Britto & Rush, 2010). Between 93-96% of individuals engage in online courses due to convenience (Noel-Levitz, 2015). The percentage varies depending on if the enrollment is at a four-year institution or at a community college.

However, at the same time online enrollment is increasing, institutions struggle with “course dropout and failure rates among online learners” (Britto & Rush, 2010, p. 29). Yet, some institutions do not even have a first to second year retention goal (ACT, 2010). So what are institutions implementing to combat this challenge?


Several strategies need to be implemented in order to decrease failures and increase student retention. One study noted the most effective retention techniques to include tutoring programs, course placement testing, and university 101 courses (Fletcher, 2012). Online tutoring is a growing option both internally and externally for students.

According to the Center for Student Success (2007), based on placement test data, approximately 70% of first year students’ needs an introductory math and/or English course. Thus, demonstrating a necessity for a combination of programs to bridge the foundational learning gap students need to succeed in their learning environment. Research also shows “When students feel more engaged and connected to the campus community, they have an 80% higher chance of continuing their academic pursuits” (Noel-Levitz, 2011). The overall goal is to strengthen student ability levels, increase engagement, which then increases the chance for an increase in student achievement, ultimately resulting in student retention.

Online tutoring can be offered as a stand-alone or supplemental program. There are various types of online tutoring, which include simplistic methods like chat sessions, interactive whiteboard sessions with guided practice, and even websites where students can submit an assignment question and an expert will get back to them with a solution within 24 hours. Most institutions also have a tutoring option with a link embedded into the learning management system. So which method works best in aiding with online retention?

Depending on the organization, the overall intent of the tutoring resource will differ. The most common purpose for online tutoring is to guide students in the area writing. This maybe to provide direction with the basic foundations of mechanics or to provide assistance with formatting for those who may have never been exposed to MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association). The important element is to align the design of the online tutoring options with the most critical need areas.

According to Hobsons (2009), both faculty and students need to participate in the retention program in order for it to be effective. Studies have found a significant correlation between program support and academic achievement (Taylor-Medoza, 2010). With research justifying the success rates of programs on academic success, institutions need to come up with a best practice model that works for their students’ needs.

These online learning communities help to provide a platform for the interactive support system both new and existing students need. Online tutoring services help to provide the digital learning community online students with struggles may need. Each student may have a different deficiency; therefore, a variety of resources need to be accessible. The key is not only having the tools available, but also training students and faculty what each resource provides, and how to access the resource. A resource is not going to provide any benefit if stakeholders do not know it exists or if they cannot access the tools.


ACT. (2010). 2010 Retention/Completion Summary Tables. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/10retain_trends.pdf

Britto, M. & Rush, S. (2010). Developing and implementing comprehensive student support services for online students. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 27(1), 29-42.

Center for Student Success. (2007). Basic skills as a foundation for success in California community colleges. Sacramento, CA: California Community College. Retrieved from http://www.cccbsi.org/Websites/basicskills/Images/Lit_Review_Student_Success.pdf

Fletcher, D. M. K. (2012). A national study of student early alert programs at two-year institutions of higher education (Order No. 3503809). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: Social Sciences. (1010282230). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/docview/1010282230?accountid=6579

Hobsons Enrollment Management Technology. (2009). The benefits of early alerts on a community college campus: Taking students success to a new level. Retrieved from http://www.hobsons.com/_pdfs/communityCollegeWhitepaper021209.pdf

Noel-Levitz Research. (2015). 2015-2016 National Online Learners Satisfaction and Priorities. Retrieved from https://www.ruffalonl.com/documents/gated/Papers_and_Research/2016/2015-16OnlineLearnersReport.pdf?code=34292740201687

Noel-Levitz Research. (2011). Mid-year Retention Indicators Report. Retrieved from https://www.ruffalonl.com/shared/Papers_and_Research/2011/2011MIDYEARINDICATORSREPORT.pdf

Taylor-Mendoza, J. (2010). Reclaiming the village: An examination of African American learning community programs in California community colleges (Order No. 3414042). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: Social Sciences; ProQuest Education Journals. (595091227). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxylocal.library.nova.edu/docview/595091227?accountid=6579

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About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Ashton has been involved in business and education for almost twenty years. She has been teaching online for a variety of universities and colleges since 2008. Jennifer has held the position of classroom teacher, technology trainer, university supervisor, assistant principal of a K-8 Charter School, Federal Programs Director, learning experience designer, and adjunct faculty member.

Dr. Ashton holds an EdD in Instructional Technology and Distance Education, a Master’s degree in Organizational Management, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education, and a Bachelor’s degree in Business. She holds teaching certifications in two states: a Professional certificate in Florida for Elementary Education with an ESOL endorsement and a Professional certificate in Georgia for Elementary Education with an ESOL endorsement and System Level Educational Leadership

Dr. Ashton has published a number of articles related to distance learning and has a passion for continuous improvement and working towards making a difference for both distance educators and students. She believes in networking and helping to build a stronger sense of community and minimizing the geographic barriers. Her current research interests include online social presence, impacts of social media on completion rates, and best practices for instructional design.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton