What’s Driving Retention in Online Degree Programs? New Insights from our Data-Backed Report


The Coursera platform has become a hub for leading universities to build and offer their online degrees to an eager audience of individuals worldwide. From the activities of thousands of students enrolled in our university partners’ degree programs, we are able to derive new insights on how individuals are engaging with online for-credit courses, what helps them succeed, and which activities most drive their retention. Throughout our new report, Drivers of Retention in Online Degree Programs, we offer data-driven best practices for driving greater retention in online degree programs. 

We see a variety of factors driving student retention in degree programs offered on the Coursera platform. The following are actions universities can take to bolster their students’ likelihood of staying in their programs:

Build on open content success

Recommend relevant open courses on Coursera. Students who complete an open course are 12% more likely to persist in their degree. Those who take open courses that stack into the degree are 3% more likely to remain in their programs.

Set students up for a strong start

Provide resources, office hours, and one-on-one question answering to help students submit their first assessment successfully, which increases their retention in the program by 6%. Performance is a strong indicator of students’ later persistence, with first-term grades emerging as especially critical.

Include staff grading

Boost motivation through expert grading and feedback. Having at least one staff-graded assessment drives a 6% increase in student retention.

Encourage frequent learning

Use techniques like short videos and smaller assessments throughout the course to help ensure students return frequently to the degree courses. Having students learn across more days leads to a 5% gain in retention and is a more significant driver than total learning time.

Design hands-on projects

Keep students progressing with hands-on projects where they can apply their new skills. Across writing, coding, and creative projects, these opportunities drive 3% greater retention. A final project is a great opportunity to provide this type of hands-on project and culminating experience for the course.

Use practice opportunities

Include ungraded assessments for low-stakes testing and to further students’ understanding. Having practice assessments drives a 2% increase in student degree retention. 

For more specifics and actionable takeaways, please visit our Drivers of Retention in Online Degree Programs report in full. We look forward to our continued partnership with universities to create more efficient and effective designs, elevating faculty’s online teaching to new heights.

The post What’s Driving Retention in Online Degree Programs? New Insights from our Data-Backed Report appeared first on Coursera Blog.


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