Increasing Student Success and Retention through Identifying Non-Cognitive Factors Associated with Potential Risk of Attrition and Digital Badging

Concurrent Session 6
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Brief Abstract

Melt and early attrition are two critical challenges within online education. This session discusses how Drexel University is developing open-access courses with digital badging for new and current students to address non-cognitive factors associated with attrition and completion. Data and feedback from two innovative research initiatives will be shared. 


Dr. Betts has 20 years of experience in higher education serving in key leadership positions within private, public, and for-profit institutions as a program director, Senior Director for e-Learning, Director of Online & Blended Learning, and Chief Academic Officer. Dr. Betts has expertise is in higher education, online and blended learning, curriculum and instructional design, strategic planning, and evaluation. Her research focus is on online and blended learning, Online Human Touch/high touch, Brain-Targeted Teaching, 21st century skills, workforce/career development, student retention, and faculty development. Dr. Betts is a Middle States peer evaluator and Quality Matters peer reviewer. She is also an instructor for the Online Learning Consortium Advanced Certificate program. Dr. Betts has also been a keynote speaker at conferences and government-supported events in Sweden, South Korea, Canada, and across the United States.
Brian Delaney is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Learning Technologies and a Research Assistant in Drexel University’s School of Education. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ithaca College in 2004, and a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in e-Learning Technologies and Instructional Design from Drexel in 2016. He spent five years as an adjunct lecturer at the Ithaca College Park School of Communications, teaching journalism courses, and was an award-winning journalist in newspapers and radio over a career of 16 years. His research foci include: journalism and mass communication education, online and blended learning, educational technologies, experiential learning and e-learning, instructional design, and Mind Brain Education sciences. In February 2018, he was selected Co-Editor of the Emerging Voices in Education Journal for a two-year term. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Stefanie, and their two children, Eamonn and Brynn.

Extended Abstract

The higher education landscape is changing. There are now “fewer students studying on campus than at any point since 2012” (Seaman, Allen & Seaman, 2018, p. 26). Institutions of higher education (IHE) are providing increasingly flexible formats including onsite, blended, and online; however, graduation rates nationally remain around 60% for undergraduates students. While postbaccalaureate enrollments increased 36% between 2000 and 2010 (NCES, 2015) and are predicted to increase 20% reaching 3.5 million students, graduate student completion rates are challenged by the illusive balance of academics, work, and family.

Research reveals that attrition rates in online education are 15% to 50% higher than those of traditional classroom face-to-face learning courses (Bambara, Harbour, Davies, & Athey, 2009; Schaeffer & Konetes, 2010). Although there has been extensive research on factors associated with student attrition, there has been limited research on the effects of open-access courses and digital badging as interventions to increase retention and completion. Digital badges have been used in higher education to recognize co-curricular activities and as assessment tools, however research is limited (Carey & Stefaniak, 2018).

Online students in the School of Education at Drexel University represent a large percentage of the overall enrollments. While the School of Education provides students with access to well-trained advisors, access to online courses one week prior to the quarter, and access to online academic support services, there are students who still stop out and drop out. In fall 2017-18, Drexel University’s School of Education launched a longitudinal study to investigate cognitive and non-cognitive factors associated with early student success, retention, and completion. Based on preliminary research, the School of Education created an open-access American Psychological Association (APA) writing style course with digital badges to address multiple non-cognitive factors associated with risk of withdrawal and attrition.

The APA course was launched in May 2018.  Within three weeks of launch, over a 120 students enrolled in this optional course. Researchers will collect survey data from students after completion of their programs. This panel presentation will share data on student enrollments in the APA open-access course as well as retention data from the longitudinal study. Panelists will discuss how these new learning pathways and digital badges are providing unique opportunities to support early student success and address non-cognitive factors associated with attrition and completion. Feedback from students enrolled in the APA course will be shared. A demonstration will also be provided of the APA open-access course.


Bambara, C. S., Harbour, C. P., Davies, T. G., & Athey, S. (2009). Delicate engagement: The lived experience of community college students enrolled in high-risk courses. Community College Review, 36(3), 219–238.

Carey, Kimberly L. & Stefaniak, Jill E. (2018, May 23). An exploration of the utility of digital badging in higher education settings. Educational Technology Research and Development, 1-19.

Casutto, P. (2013, July 1). PhD attrition: How much is too much? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Patterson, T. (2016, July 16). Why do so many graduate students quit? The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Schaeffer, C. E. & Konetes, G. D. (2010). Impact of learner engagement on attrition rates and student success in online learning. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 7, 3-9.