Improving Retention Factors and Student Success Online Utilizing the Community of Inquiry Framework’s Instructor Presence Model


  • Michelle L Rosser-Majors University of Arizona Global Campus
  • Sandra Rebeor University of Arizona Global Campus
  • Christine McMahon University of Arizona Global Campus
  • Andrea Wilson Walden University
  • Stephanie L Stubbs University of Arizona Global Campus
  • Yolanda Harper University of Arizona Global Campus
  • Laura Sliwinski Smith Chason College



Instructor Presence, Community of Inquiry, sustainability


Considerable research on effective instruction in the virtual classroom exists. Yet very little is known about the extent to which instructor presence (IP) based on the Community of Inquiry model (CoI), are directly related to retention and student success. CoI includes three components of IP: teaching (TP), cognitive (CP), and social (SP). These IP engagement strategies have been suggested to improve outcomes if effectively applied in the virtual classroom. Attrition rates, retention, engagement, and student and instructor success rates are critical aspects of an effective virtual classroom and identifying practices that support these efforts is essential. This study suggests that CoI engagement strategies, when applied by instructors to the online classroom effectively, can improve factors associated with retention and success. To prepare instructors, we designed and utilized a series of seven self-paced interactive modules. With the training, the educators were able to engage with students more effectively by integrating best practices associated with IP. Course dropout rates and student success rates both significantly improved (p = .05; p < .001 respectively) after these engagement strategies were more efficaciously integrated into the classroom by the trained instructors.

Author Biographies

Michelle L Rosser-Majors, University of Arizona Global Campus

Dr. Michelle L. Rosser-Majors is a Full Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arizona Global Campus. She currently serves as Chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department. Dr. Rosser-Majors is also an author. Her books include Psychology applied: Diverse domains, ample opportunity (2020) (co-author), Theories of Learning: An Exploration (2017), Becoming an Integrated Educational Leader (2014), and Jacob’s New School (2014). Book chapters include The Case of the Plagiarized Paragraph: A Practical Exercise to Develop Academic Voice (in Integrating Writing into the College Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Student Skills). She has presented research at conferences in Portugal, Spain, Canada, Virginia, Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York.


Sandra Rebeor, University of Arizona Global Campus

Dr. Sandra Rebeor is an Associate Professor and Lead Faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC). She earned her BBA in Business Administration with a minor in Management at Campbell University and her Master of Science in Health Sciences - Emergency and Disaster Management at Trident University International. Dr. Rebeor earned her Psy.D. in Health and Wellness Psychology at the University of the Rockies. She was born and raised in Germany before coming to the United States. Her professional experience ranges from working with the German government to academic and military environments. Dr. Rebeor enjoys volunteering in her community in varying capacities. Within the online classroom, she loves to connect the learned material to applicable, real-world content to enhance learning but also to aid in the retention of the learned material in the long term.

Christine McMahon, University of Arizona Global Campus

Dr. Christine McMahon is an Associate Professor and Faculty Lead of the Bachelor of Healthcare Administration, Health and Wellness Emphasis, & Public Health Emphasis at the University of Arizona Global Campus College of Arts and Sciences. She received a Doctorate in Health Education from AT Still University in Kirksville, MO, and a master’s degree in Exercise Science as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology and Sports Studies from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL. She is also a Certified Health Education Specialist. Prior to joining UAGC, she spent 15 years working as the Coordinator of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation at Salem Township Hospital in Salem, IL. Dr. McMahon especially appreciates the online learning format because it provided her with an opportunity to continue her dreams of attaining a doctorate degree while being a mother, wife, and full-time employee.

Andrea Wilson, Walden University

Andrea M. Wilson, PhD, is a current core faculty member in the Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University. She has served for 15 years as faculty and field supervisor for multiple universities teaching and advising students in the fields of education leadership and administration, special education, research methods and statistics, and psychology. She has extensive experience in the K-12 public education sector as a teacher, behavior interventionist, and administrator. Dr. Wilson is a fully certified educator in the fields of educational leadership and special education. Her current research interests include retention and success of students and faculty in online higher education, collaborative teaming approaches to research and scholarly activity, best practices in school discipline and education leadership, and technology applications in education.

Stephanie L Stubbs, University of Arizona Global Campus

Dr. Stephanie L. Stubbs an Associate Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. She earned both her MA and PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Kansas, where she specialized in cultural psychology with a research focus on the cultural grounding of personal relationships and the importance of attraction. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). She says her favorite thing about teaching is seeing students get excited, and she encourages them to push themselves to actively explore, discover, and grow from what they’re their learning in the coursework.

Yolanda Harper, University of Arizona Global Campus

Yolanda Harper, Ph.D., Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), teaches classes in Psychology, Applied Behavioral Sciences, and Health & Human Services.

Laura Sliwinski, Smith Chason College

Dr. Laura Sliwinski has 20+ years of experience in healthcare and higher education administration and is passionate about leading innovative educational programs for the next generation of healthcare professionals. Dr. Sliwinski currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Faculty Development and Learning Assessment at Smith Chason College and has served in previous roles as the Executive Program Director for Health Studies at Colorado Technical University and as the Executive Dean for the College of Health, Human Services and Science at Ashford University, now University of Arizona Global Campus, where she provided leadership support for an award-winning Instructor Presence initiative to improve student success, retention, and satisfaction in the online classroom. Dr. Sliwinski enjoys teaching and curriculum development and has served as an accreditation certification reviewer for the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). Prior to transitioning to higher education, Dr. Sliwinski was a consultant, presenter, and keynote speaker in the healthcare industry. She is most proud of her work as a change management consultant for the implementation of electronic medical records at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Sliwinski received her master’s in Health Administration from Tulane University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from Alliant International University. 


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Faculty, Professional Development, and Online Teaching