The Pulse of Higher Ed

Perspectives on Online and Professional Education
from UPCEA’s Research and Consulting Experts

[Snap Poll Results] Retention and Persistence

It is clear that higher education will face a number of challenges over the next decade as the pandemic has accelerated a number of technological, societal and economic trends. Further complicating the matters for institutions of higher education in the U.S. is the fact that demographic trends show an upcoming decade of declining traditional students. Higher education has started to diversify its risk by offering more online programs over the past decade and now has started down the path of alternative or new credentialing. As part of this movement, many institutions are exploring stackable credentials and how they fit into occupational pathways. Some have also integrating noncredit or professional programs into their educational portfolios to support a number of these occupational pathway strategies.


With this transformation, operating metrics are certain to change. Many institutions track completion for degree seekers based on what percentage graduate, as well as what percentage graduate over a specific time period, such as four-year or six-year graduation rates. When servicing part-time learners, such as those enrolled a fully online degree program, graduation rates could be measured in longer time periods, such as 7, 8, or even 9 years or more[1].


However, with the movement toward alternative or new credentials, will part-time learners or full-time learners in fully online programs extend their timeframes? Will they feel the same urgency to finish a degree when earning certificates or badges may immediately help them with their career goals? A recent UPCEA snap poll of 66 institutions taken in June shows that just under two-thirds of institutions track persistence or retention of fully online students. They use a number of metrics including % of cohort still enrolled (64%) fall-to-fall or spring-to-spring, % of cohort still enrolled term-to-term (55%), % of cohort still enrolled in the calendar year (32%), individual course completion (32%) and other metrics. Professional, continuing and online (PCO) units are, however, more focused short-term metrics, as 91% rate new student recruiting as extremely important compared to 64% saying student persistence/retention/completion were extremely important. 


In the new economy, with more educational alternatives, the classic measurement that is based off retention or persistence toward a degree or completion of a degree is likely to be convoluted due to the rise of alternative or new credentials. We need to be prepared to measure this and report progress correctly. It is likely that classic measures of retention and completion may paint what appears to be a decline or drop in performance, when in reality, the news may be good in that they are reconnecting to the institution and the economy through new credentialing opportunities. For more information, see the full results of the snap poll here.


[1] IPEDs Graduation Rates, Publication No. 2017046, December 2016.



Learn more about UPCEA's expert consultants

Do you need help with your PCO unit or campus? We can help. Contact UPCEA Research and Consulting for a brief consult. Email [email protected] or call us at 202-659-3130.

Trusted by the nation's top colleges and universities, UPCEA Research and Consulting provides the best value in the industry today. UPCEA's industry experts have years of experience in Online and Professional Continuing education - put them to work for you!

UPCEA Research and Consulting offers a variety of custom research and consulting options through an outcomes-focused pricing model. Find the option(s) that best suit your institution.

Learn more about UPCEA Research & Consulting

The UPCEA Difference

Unmatched Experience: For more than 100 years, UPCEA consultants have exclusively served the needs of online and professional continuing education programs. UPCEA consultants leverage their extensive industry expertise to expedite solutions, anticipate upcoming shifts, and offer distinct best practices, effectively aiding clients in achieving their goals.

Cost Effectiveness: As a nonprofit, member-serving organization, we provide unmatched value, allowing you to maximize limited research and consulting budgets.

Action in Motion: Our cadre of experienced, skilled authorities and expert practitioners propels you forward, translating research and consulting into impactful implementation, a distinctive hallmark of UPCEA. Our team of current and former institutional leaders will support you, turning research and consulting into action.

Mission Alignment: Like you, our mission is to enhance and expand educational opportunities and outcomes for adult and other non-traditional learners. We share your values and work in partnership with you to advance access and excellence in education.

Other UPCEA Updates + Blogs

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

The saying “who’s in the driver’s seat” commonly refers to driving a car and the decision of whether one person should lead or if input is necessary. Similarly, the term “backseat driver” describes someone not in control attempting to influence or take charge. Both phrases suggest notions of control and ego. One could argue that…

Read More

Take Action on Proposed State Authorization Reciprocity Regulations | Policy Matters (April 2024)

Major Updates   Urgent: Take Action on Proposed State Authorization Reciprocity Regulations The Department of Education is set to introduce new regulations that could significantly alter state authorization reciprocity agreements, critically affecting online education and our students’ futures. Following the lack of consensus in recent negotiated rulemaking sessions, the forthcoming rules are expected to impose…

Read More

Bringing an Insider-Outsider Perspective to UPCEA’s Members

Shortly after pivoting twelve years ago from a deanship to a faculty position, I realized the only job better than being a dean was now being able to help other university leaders. A highlight of this career change has been visiting campuses as part of a consulting or accreditation team and conducting numerous solo consulting…

Read More

How to Market Your Higher Education Programs to Prospective Students

As the college admissions landscape continues undergoing seismic shifts, higher education administrators and marketing teams must be able to come up with innovative, future-forward marketing strategies designed to increase interest, boost admission rates, and target student populations that may not otherwise have considered attending college. By developing a marketing strategy for student recruitment, you can promote your higher…

Read More

UPCEA Recognizes the 2024 Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable and Distance Teaching & Learning Conference Award Recipients

7 Individuals Receive Honors WASHINGTON (April 18, 2024) – UPCEA, the online and professional education association, is pleased to recognize the recipients of this year’s online and distance education awards.  Award recipients will be honored at the 2024 Summit for Online Leadership and Administration + Roundtable (SOLA+R) and Distance Teaching & Learning Conference (DT&L), July…

Read More

UPCEA Announces 2024-2025 Leadership Teams for Council for Chief Online Learning Officers and Council for Credential Innovation

UPCEA, the online and professional education association, announced today the 2024-2025 leadership teams for the Council for Chief Online Learning Officers and Council for Credential Innovation. The association extends its gratitude to the 37 member volunteers serving in leadership roles for these two bodies.  The Council for Chief Online Learning Officers (C-COLO) and its members…

Read More

The Nation's Top Universities Choose UPCEA Research and Consulting

Informed decisions. Ideas that work. The data you need. Trusted by the top universities in the nation.