Online Lessons to Help Students Prevent Pregnancy and Complete College

Chelsey Storin
Innovation Showcase

As colleges strive to improve student success and completion, helping students delay pregnancy and parenting (or having additional children) means one less factor that can interfere with their college education. However, pregnancy planning and prevention is not something most community colleges have addressed. Free resources are now available for colleges, including three short and easy-to-use online lessons that have been shown to improve students' knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intent when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy.

Unplanned Pregnancy and College Completion

Unplanned births account for nearly one in 10 dropouts among female students at community colleges, and 7 percent of dropouts among community college students overall (Prentice, Storin, and Robinson, 2012). This relatively modest proportion translates into a significant number of students who experience an unplanned pregnancy or have a child while enrolled. In addition, the impact on these students is significant--61 percent of community college students who have children after enrolling do not finish their education, which is 65 percent higher than for women who do not have children while in college (Bradburn, 2002).

Perhaps you have witnessed students who had great potential but, when faced with a pregnancy, had to drop out to provide for a child financially, for medical reasons, or because they could not find or afford day care. Juan Betacur is one of those students. Juan had just started college when his daughter was born, and working six days a week, helping to care for an infant, and attending college proved too great a challenge. Motivated to give his daughter a better life, he finally returned to college eight years later.

While faculty and staff might initially be hesitant to address unplanned pregnancy, students themselves are interested in the topic. Three-quarters of students report that preventing unplanned pregnancy is very important to them, and eight in 10 say that having a child while still in school would make it harder to accomplish their goals (Prentice, Storin, and Robinson, 2012). Indeed, as noted by Achieving the Dream, students with children face unique challenges, including child care, employment, student loans, and housing issues, which make completing their education more difficult (Clery and Harmon, 2012). While some colleges have initiatives to provide student parents with resources to help them stay in college, many do not, and even fewer provide students with the knowledge and strategies to avoid unplanned pregnancy in the first place.

Myths and Magical Thinking

You may think that by the time they arrive at college, students already know everything there is to know about how to prevent a pregnancy. After all, most students are adults, so surely they must have received this information from their parents or in middle or high school. However, many students grew up in homes where the topic of sex or contraception was off limits, or their education in school was inadequate or even non-existent.

Despite this knowledge gap, most students themselves think they have all the information they need to prevent a pregnancy. But, research shows that myths, misinformation, and magical thinking are all too common among young adults when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy, which puts them and their partners at risk. For example, 94 percent of unmarried young adults ages 18-29 say that they have all the information they need to avoid having or causing an unplanned pregnancy, but 11 percent say they know little or nothing about condoms, 42 percent say they know little or nothing about birth control pills, and 73 percent say they know little or nothing about intrauterine devices (IUDs) (Albert, 2012).

For more background about unplanned pregnancy among college students, stories from students themselves, and what students think they know about preventing unplanned pregnancy, download Make It Personal: How Pregnancy Planning and Prevention Help Students Complete College, published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Online Lessons: Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College

To help address these issues, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (The National Campaign), a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, has been working with colleges around the country to develop free resources that faculty can use on their campuses.

The three online lessons in Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College help students learn how to prevent unplanned pregnancy and then take action. The lessons are designed to help students understand the impact of unplanned pregnancy on their educational goals, social lives, significant relationships, and finances. Students learn about various birth control methods; select the most appropriate method(s) for their values, lifestyles, and relationships; and create an action plan to decrease their chances of unplanned pregnancy. The lessons are full of videos, activities, helpful websites, and other resources that keep students interested and engaged.

The lessons were developed for a first-year experience course, but could be used in a variety of settings, such as orientation, academic classes, or through student groups on campus. They were designed to be helpful to both male and female students, and are sensitive to students who are already parents (for whom having another child while in college can make it that much harder to complete their education). For example, one of the lessons includes a video created by students at Georgia Perimeter College that features Juan speaking about the challenges he faces as a student who also works full time and serves as the custodial parent of his daughter.

In this video, Juan Betacur talks about his experiences and how important it is to properly plan for a child.

By offering the lessons, instructors can provide students with valuable information that will contribute to college success, without needing to become experts on these topics themselves or using class time. The lessons are very flexible--some faculty have used them as in-class activities; others have assigned as homework for a grade or as extra credit. Each of the three lessons takes roughly 30 minutes to complete.

Feedback About the Online Lessons

Based on feedback from a pilot test of the lessons, all participating faculty found that the lessons were easy to integrate into their courses, and indicated they would recommend the lessons to a colleague. One said, "The interactive practice quizzes were great. I thought the video clips were very appropriate and helped the topic seem more real and important." Another noted, "The videos allowed students to learn about other students' values and beliefs. They also gave different perspectives which allowed my students to make their own decisions.

Students also found the lessons very helpful, informative, and educational. One student said, "I think the stories really helped me put things into perspective especially realizing that unplanned pregnancy is such a big thing. It changes everything!" According to another, "They were casual and easy for young people to listen to."

The Fact or Fiction video series illustrates a common myth in a humorous way, and then a doctor comes on and sets the record straight.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Online Lessons

While the pilot of the online lessons yielded positive feedback, it was important to also determine whether the lessons had any impact on students' knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intent. In the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters, 2,050 students participated in the evaluation from three colleges: Georgia Perimeter College (GA), Palo Alto College (TX), and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College (OH).

Data analysis was conducted by The National Campaign to examine the differences in attitudes about pregnancy prevention, behavior and behavioral intent, and knowledge before and after the online lessons. It is important to note that there were no significant differences among the three colleges on any of the primary outcome variables.

Evaluation Results

The findings from the first phase of the evaluation were very encouraging. In approximately 90 minutes, students were far more knowledgeable and prepared to take action to prevent unplanned pregnancy until they have completed their educational goals.


Eight in 10 students said they were more aware of ways to prevent pregnancy as a result of the taking the online lessons. Indeed, students were able to actually demonstrate their knowledge gains. Participants answered seven questions related to their knowledge about birth control. Two of the questions asked about relative efficacy of three birth control methods, and five were true/false. Before taking the online lessons, students were, on average, correct on 61 percent of questions; after the lessons, they were correct on 85 percent of questions.

For example, one question asked students which of the following methods is most effective: the implant, condom, or patch. On the pre-survey, only 42 percent of women and 28 percent of men were able to answer correctly that the implant is most effective; on the post-survey, 71 percent of women and 65 percent of men answered correctly.

A true/false question with one of the largest knowledge gains stated, "Birth control pills reduce the risk of certain types of cancer." On the pre-survey, only 33 percent of women and 31 percent of men were able to answer correctly ("true"); on the post-survey, 92 percent of women and 84 percent of men answered correctly.

In addition, after taking the online lessons, students were more likely to know where to go in their community to get birth control other than condoms.


After taking the online lessons, students were significantly more likely to believe it is important to avoid becoming pregnant at this time in their lives or avoid getting someone pregnant, as well as to believe a pregnancy would make it more difficult to achieve their educational goals.

Moreover, students were significantly more likely to consider using a new method of birth control--including more effective low-maintenance, long-acting methods--after completing the online lessons. For example, before taking the lessons, only 22 percent of women said they would be moderately to strongly likely to try an IUD, one of the low-maintenance methods, and after taking the online lessons 33 percent said they would consider one.

Behavioral Intent

Changes in knowledge and attitudes are important because without them it is less likely that students will take action to effectively prevent pregnancy. But even more encouraging is that students indicated that they planned to change their behavior after completing the online lessons.

After taking the online lessons, students were significantly more likely to have a clear plan for preventing unplanned pregnancy, and two-thirds of students said the online lessons helped them make a decision about birth control. Also, more than seven in 10 reported they were likely to follow through on their Action Plan, a worksheet students complete in the third lesson that includes information such as listing the methods of birth control they want to ask their doctor about, adding contact information for a health care provider and scheduling an appointment, and setting up reminders to refill their prescription or use birth control.

Women under age 30 reported they will be more likely to use a method of birth control if they have sex in the next three months. Also, since it is important that the lessons resonate just as much with men as they do with women, it's encouraging that on the post-survey men under age 30 who had sex in the previous month were more likely to report that they had used a method of birth control in the last month.

For the full results of the evaluation, download Preventing Pregnancy and Completing College: An Evaluation of Online Lessons.

Next Phase of the Evaluation

The next step in the evaluation is to connect these positive changes when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy to college completion. In the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters, approximately 1,000 students from three colleges--Georgia Perimeter College, Miami Dade College (FL), and Tarrant County College (TX)--will complete the pre- and post-surveys. The colleges will then provide data to The National Campaign about whether those students have completed the 2014 spring semester as well as if they have reenrolled to continue in the fall.

How to Get Started

Addressing the topic of preventing unplanned pregnancy can help students finish their education. The three online lessons in Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing Collegemake it possible to provide students with valuable content in an engaging and effective way, without a large investment of money or time.

We invite you to contact The National Campaign to learn more about available resources, including customized training webinars for you and your colleagues about how to use the online lessons. Please contact Chelsey Storin, Manager of College Initiatives, at or 202.478.8519.

About The National Campaign

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy is a research-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to improve the lives and future prospects of children and families by preventing teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancy among single, young adults. Helping students avoid unplanned pregnancy--which places additional stress on their time, finances, and relationships--can help them complete college. The National Campaign offers free publications and resources, including three online lessons, that college faculty can use to bring this topic to their campus. For more information, please visit

To learn more about how to get started on your campus, The National Campaign will be at the Innovations 2014 conference in Anaheim, CA. The Special Session is on Sunday, March 2, at 2:15 PM, titled, Helping Students Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy and Complete College. In addition, Campaign staff will be in Booth 233 in the Exhibition Hall March 2-4. For more information about the Innovations conference, visit the conference webpage.


Albert, B. (2012). The target speaks: What young adults think about unplanned pregnancy. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Bradburn, E. M. (2002). Short-term enrollment in postsecondary education: Student background and institutional differences in reasons for early departure, 1996-98. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

Clery, S., & Harmon, T. (2012). Data notes: Student parents and academic outcomes. Silver Spring, MD: Achieving the Dream, Inc.

Prentice, M., Storin, C., & Robinson, G. (2012). Make it personal: How pregnancy planning and prevention help students complete college. Washington, DC: American Association of Community Colleges.

Chelsey Storin is the Manager of College Initiatives at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Editor's Note: This month, the articles in Leadership Abstracts, Learning Abstracts, and Innovation Showcase are provided by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Each article stands alone, offering insights into issues and challenges facing college students who are pregnant or become pregnant. Together, they provide information and details about resources community college educators can access and use to help students make informed choices that are right for them.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.