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Campus Residency May Improve Online Student Retention and Satisfaction

When Maurice Rico, a senior process engineer in El Paso, TX, enrolled in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business online degree program, a top ranked distance learning MBA, he wasn’t sure he had picked the best online school—until he participated in a mandatory, one-week online residency before classes began. Rico, 40, flew from Texas to Indiana for the one-week online residency, paying airfare out of his own pocket (the school paid for housing and meals for the campus residency). The “very intense” week of coursework, case studies, and networking allowed him to meet his teachers and fellow online students. Rico now says the online campus residency requirement confirmed that the Kelley Direct distance degree program was the right online MBA program for him. “It made me feel a lot better about how well-structured and solid it was,” Rico says.

Terrill Cosgray, executive director of the 10-year-old Kelley School of Business online MBA, says the initial distance learning orientation visit “helps ground online students and prepare them for what’s going to come in the online learning environment. It helps them build strong relationships with the people they are going to be working with. It’s an intense experience.”

The Kelley School online MBA degree program also requires a week-long college visit at the start of the second year of online learning. Cosgray says sometimes online students with serious conflicts—such as a military service—are able to waive the college visit. These students participate in a substitute distance learning orientation course instead. However, almost all online students are required to participate in the campus visits.

Another online school with a campus visit requirement is Kansas State University. This school’s masters in agribusiness distance degree requires students to conduct a campus visit twice a year, even though 20 percent of this school’s online degree program students live outside the U.S.

“We were concerned that students being in a distance program would have a feeling of isolation, but the visits let online students meet and work on problems together—it reduces that,” says Allen Featherstone, director of the KSU online degree program.

Featherstone cites several possible benefits of a distance learning orientation visit prior to beginning an online degree program:

1. Staff install laptop software to help online courses run smoothly;

2. Online students can be inspired and mentored by industry executives who often attend the online residencies.

3. School officials can test online students face-to-face. The school can then compare these test results with the subsequent tests and papers online students turn in. This practice helps detect and prevent cheating.

Some studies on online student retention have also shown that requiring distance learning students to attend face-to-face campus visits may help students remain in school and complete online degree programs. Radwan Ali, professor of business at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, found in a 2009 study that online students who attended a face-to-face orientation were less likely to drop out.A follow-up online education study looked at alternate methods of providing contact to online students, such as frequent phone calls by instructors. These methods were not found to be as effective in online student retention as a brief campus residency.

For additional information on student retention in online education, you can visit the Kennesaw article: The Impact of Face-to-Face Orientation on Online Retention: a Pilot Study.

Required residencies for distance learning students also have drawbacks.

1. Non-traditional adult students may have difficulty getting time off work and arranging for childcare.

2. Paying for transportation to the college and lodging while attending campus meetings can be expensive. Plane fare and lodging can push the cost of a one-week mandatory campus orientation session to upwards of $2,000. Much of this may be out-of-pocket expenses; transportation and lodging costs are usually not covered by financial aid or corporate tuition assistance programs.

GetEducated conducted a web poll in the spring of 2010 asking site visitors if they would be willing to participate in a campus visit as part of an online degree program. 44 percent said no. Another 25 percent said having to visit campus “might affect my decision to enroll.”

Most accredited distance degree programs don’t require online student travel to a campus. Of the 756 online bachelor degree programs in GetEducated’s college directory, the vast majority – 734 – are 100 percent online.

Of the 1,689 online masters degree programs reviewed by GetEducated, 1,418 (84 percent) do not require a campus visit or residency.

At Pennsylvania State University’s online division, Penn State World Campus, “there is typically no campus visit requirement for students,” says Kate Elias, student communications coordinator. However, says Elias, the World Campus online school offers a variety of in-person and online activities designed to help foster a sense of campus community.

Online students are invited to represent the World Campus during Penn State’s annual All-University Day, including attending a football game and World Campus tailgate party, as well as participating in graduation open houses. The school is developing a “huddle with the faculty” event to be live-streamed online. During this online session professors introduce themselves and answer questions, says Elias. Until recently, the online school was using the Second Life virtual world to create a simulated version of the Penn campus for students to visit, but the virtual campus was closed due to lack of interest by online students.

For Rico, his week long visit to Indiana University’s Kelley Direct Online MBA program created a sense of campus community and that sense of belonging carried through to his online courses and education in general.

“It was a very, very good experience,” says Rico. The IU campus visit “makes you feel part of a group” and established, for Rico, “a sense of belonging to a team… I really liked it.”

Find online degree programs that are 100 percent online or require a campus visits by using the GetEducated Find Degrees tool.

First, select a subject (Criminal Justice) or a degree level (Bachelors).

Once you see the initial search results page, look to the left side of the page and select either the “100 Percent Online” or the “Some Campus Visits” filter under the “Percent Online” category – highlighted in yellow in the image below.

To see only degree programs that are “100 Percent” online just click on the “100 Percent Online” filter. To see those that require or offer a campus visit, select the “Some Campus Visits” option.

Compare degrees for those that require campus visits

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