The T-shirt Effect: How Swag Has Cultivated Community, Connection, and Retention in an Online EdD Program

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Enrollment in online higher education programs continues to outpace enrollment in traditional on-the-ground programs (Lederman, 2019; NCES, 2022). More students are opting for online pathways (McKenzie, 2021), however, attrition rates in online programs remain high (Bawa, 2016; Cochran et al., 2014). Current literature suggests attrition rates for online programs are frequently 10-20% higher than traditional face-to-face programs (Bawa, 2016) and that doctoral degree completion rates are lower than most other postsecondary degrees (Lehan et al., 2021; Spaulding & Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012).

Various personal and programmatic factors influence the persistence of online doctoral students (Lehan et al., 2021; Rockinson-Szapkiw & Stephen, 2019; Zahl, 2015). Creating a community, promoting a sense of belonging, and providing opportunities to be connected to the university, faculty and staff, and other students, are critical factors that contribute to student success and improved retention rates in online doctoral programs (Bollinger et al., 2019; Buss & Wolf, 2021; Lively et al., 2021; Studebaker & Curtis, 2021).

Join this webinar to learn more about how the team from Baylor University utilizes strategic delivery of thoughtful program-branded swag as a form of relationship marketing to help foster community, promote belonging, and create connections between stakeholders in their online EdD program. They will also review the results of a multi-year research study measuring the impact of the swag strategy.

Intended Audience: 

Faculty, Instructional Support, Training Professionals, Administrators

Key Takeaways:

By attending this session, attendees will be able to: 

  1. Discuss how to structure a strategic swag program.
  2. Share the purpose and value of a strategic swag program in online learning communities. 
  3. Share study findings on student perspectives of swag as it relates to improving belonging, connectedness, and community in one online doctoral program. 
  4. Examine the overall sense of belonging, community, connection as a result of a strategic swag program.
Speaker Bio


Erin O’Connor Marsano, Ed.D.
Lecturer – Baylor University

Erin O’Connor Marsano, Ed.D., is a lecturer in the Ed.D. in Learning and Organizational Change (LOC) program. She joined Baylor’s faculty in the fall of 2022 and serves as a faculty advisor for multiple cohorts of students completing their dissertations. She teaches Problem of Practice I, II, and III, Philosophy and Ethics in Leadership, and Mentoring and Supervision in the Ed.D.-LOC program.

Cece Lively
Director of Portfolio Management for Professional Education – Baylor University

Before joining Graduate Professional Education as the Director of Portfolio Management, Cece Lively served as Assistant Director to Baylor’s largest research doctoral program, the EdD in Learning and Organizational Change. Her research interests include student persistence, student support services, online learning, organizational change, student success, and community building in online spaces. Most recently her doctoral dissertation research focuses on narrative, qualitative research in the area of doctoral student persistence.

Amy Sloan, Ed.D.
Lecturer – Baylor University

Amy Sloan, Ed.D., is a lecturer in the department of Curriculum & Instruction. Dr. Sloan has been in higher education for almost two decades, with the majority of that time spent in postsecondary education primarily working within online education programs. With few exceptions, her postsecondary teaching and leadership positions have been within programs designed for non-traditional adult learners.

Laila Sanguras, Ph.D.
Graduate Program Director – Baylor University

Laila Y. Sanguras, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the department of Curriculum & Instruction and graduate program director of the EdD in Learning and Organizational Change. Dr. Sanguras’ areas of teaching include educational evaluation and mixed methods research. Dr. Sanguras’ primary scholarly interest is the development of psychosocial skills, particularly grit and coping, and how teachers and parents can support their children to succeed academically and personally.