Increasing Program Retention Rates by Enhancing Academic and Clinical Competencies

The Problem

Prior to the Title III Retention Project’s inception date, 2007, about 250 students were enrolled each semester in the nursing program.  Approximately 30% of these students were unable to successfully complete one or more courses during the academic year. These students were considered at-risk for exiting the program without graduating. Over the 5 year activity cycle, 2007-2012, the enrollment of the College of Nursing has increased to the present enrollment of 400 students per semester. As a result, the number of at-risk students has increased as well. The retention program was needed to provide the supplemental support that would enable at-risk students to successfully complete the program, pass the licensure examination, and practice as professional nurses.

The Solution: Virtual Retention Program

The purpose of the Project was to implement a comprehensive Virtual Retention Program   designed to increase retention and graduation of at-risk students across the nursing curriculum.  The activity addressed four critical areas that impact student performance in nursing education:  academic enrichment, integration of technology to enhance transfer of knowledge, activities to promote critical thinking, and development of clinical competencies essential to the delivery of safe and effective nursing care.

The project had four components: real time tutors, web based delivery of enrichment activities using a retention website, technology based teaching strategies developed using software products such as Softchalk and Flipping books, and the use of Human Patient Simulators to provide simulated clinical learning experiences. The accessibility and format of the program has been instrumental in capturing the interest of faculty and students thus changing the dynamics of communication with students and expanding the learning environment beyond the traditional classroom settings and time constraints.

Through the use of technology, a virtual learning environment was created where students could access 1) interactive learning activities 24 hours a day and 2) real time online tutoring sessions conducted during non-traditional hours. The Retention Coordinator and graduate students conducted tutoring sessions once a week at a mutually agreeable time for participants. Faculty worked with the Coordinator to ensure that content learning materials and activities were relevant to the course in which they were enrolled.  In addition, the retention website was used to communicate with participants about project activities, updates, and events. Participants used their University ID and Password to logon to the website.

Patient simulations were also used as a teaching and learning strategy to transfer and evaluate knowledge, critical thinking, clinical skills, and competencies needed to implement interventions which ensure patient safety and provide effective nursing care.  The Project faculty and staff in the simulation laboratory worked with course faculty and at-risk students to provide simulated

real time clinical experiences using high fidelity equipment to provide practice in the application of theory to clinical practice prior to encounters with clients in the health care setting.

Project Outcomes

The Virtual Retention Program was instrumental in increasing the at-risk student baseline retention rate of 60% to the present 95%.  Project participants’ performance on examinations were equal to or better than non-participants by the end of their enrolled courses.  This fact is reflected in the numbers of students who were retained and successfully moved through the program. One hundred thirty two (132) retention students have graduated from the nursing program and 131 (99%) students have successfully passed the licensure examination (See table below).

Project faculty and staff used a survey to obtain evaluative feedback from participants on the program and retention activities. Student evaluations indicated: the program enhanced their understanding of content (97%), improved test taking (94.5%), and improved concept integration (97.2%).  The strategies and techniques developed by the Title III Project, Increasing Program Retention Rates by Enhancing Academic and Clinical Competencies, are now being used to support and enhance student learning across the curriculum.


Contact information:

Activity Coordinator: Isaac Smith


Retention Coordinator: Keisha Green