Elizabeth Carson-Murphy, Ed.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Ed.D. program in Educational and Professional Practice at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Cristy Sugarman, EdD, Chairperson
  • Angel Martinez, PhD, Committee Member
  • Jonathan Eskridge, PhD, Committee Member


higher education, student success, nontraditional student, retention, engagement, university, enrollment, online learning, storytelling

Document Type


Publication Date



Online learning in the higher education sector has grown exponentially over the past 15 years. Whereas online learning was once a viable alternative for the nontraditional adult student, enrollment trends now show an influx in traditional students opting for virtual education opportunities especially in the last three years during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there has been exponential growth in online learning, the rates of attrition have also significantly increased, making it difficult for institutions to retain their online students. This qualitative narrative inquiry study will explore the impact of authentic relationships on student success, engagement, and overall persistence in online learning environments. The research used in this review is timely and relevant for the current student climate that continues to reflect increases in online learning as well as enrollment of both traditional and nontraditional students who have conflicting priorities (work, personal life, and scholarly pursuits). Data compiled here will seek to provide details that support a teacher culture while considering authentic engagement, collective ownership, communication, and human centeredness as avenues for increased student success. It will explore internal and external factors contributing to and/or hindering student success and seek to identify effective and innovative student service practices that foster increased engagement and retention in online student learning environments. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA ( and OhioLINK ETD Center (


ORCID No.: 0009-0007-7191-9427