How to Address the Top Four Risk Factors for Online Students

11/07/16   |  
Melissa Stec

It’s no surprise that online students have unique challenges. Being sensitive to these challenges and equipped with strategies to address each will help improve student retention and outcomes. When supporting nontraditional students, focus on these top four types of risk factors:  


At the beginning of a degree program, ask the student these vital questions:

  • Have you thought about how you will fund your education?
  • Will you need financial aid, and do you know how to go about that?
  • Do you have personal funds available?

We know going back to school can pose a significant financial burden. Addressing these issues early on will help prevent this from being a reason the student fails to graduate. Adult students have many obligations and expenses outside of school, making this an especially important consideration.


We have specific student retention strategies around all of these risk factors, and this one, in particular, requires much-needed support for students who are trying to integrate coursework with family time, full-time jobs and other commitments. These students were trying to carve out time for many aspects of their already hectic lives before they added online courses to the mix. Offer them strategies and tactics to plan their time for school-related activities.


This can be a major obstacle for online students as they navigate new learning management systems, wikis and software they are either unfamiliar with or that malfunction. Helping students through their technological challenges will allow them to take advantage of all the ways they can engage with their classmates and online community. This is especially important for distance learners and has shown to aid in student retention.


Often times, it’s been a while since these students have been in school. They may have struggled academically in the past, school swapped multiple times without graduating or be nervous to try a new mode of education. These are just a few of the academic challenges for adult learners. It’s important for online students to be held accountable as online classes offer flexibility, but include deadlines and other requirements that can creep up on them.

Our student success advisors are highly trained based on each of these barriers to success. I often say that we bring a face and voice to a virtual environment. 

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