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Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College: Online Lessons Support Colleges’ Student Completion Agendas

Learning Abstract

February 2014, Volume 17, Number 2

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.

By Virginia Kirk

Unplanned pregnancy affects the retention, completion, and success of a large number of college students, yet it is an issue that colleges often overlook when considering their student completion agendas. Resources are now available for colleges to use for free, including three online lessons that have been shown to improve students' knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intent when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy.

The Impact of Unplanned Pregnancy on Student Completion Rates

An unplanned pregnancy dramatically increases the risk of a student dropping out of college: 61 percent of women who have children after enrolling in community college fail to finish their degrees, which is 65 percent higher than the rate for those who didn’t have children (Bradburn, 2002). Births from unplanned pregnancy account for nearly one in 10 dropouts among female community college students and 7 percent of dropouts among community college students overall (Prentice, Storin, and Robinson, 2012). In a study conducted by the American Association of Community Colleges and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (The National Campaign), 82 percent of students reported that having a child while in school would make it harder to accomplish their goals (Prentice et al., 2012).

Research also shows that many young people harbor myths, misinformation, and magical thinking about sex, contraception, and pregnancy that put them at risk for unplanned pregnancy (Kaye, Suellentrop, and Sloup, 2009; The National Campaign, 2008). 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.

To help colleges address this important issue, The National Campaign, a research-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, has published three free online lessons: Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College. The three lessons help students understand the impact of unplanned pregnancy on their educational goals, social lives, relationships, and finances. Students also learn about various birth control methods; select the most appropriate methods for their values, lifestyles, and relationships; and create plans to decrease their chances of unplanned pregnancy.

Throughout the lessons, short videos feature students talking about their experiences, attitudes, and choices.

Online Lessons Positively Impact Student Attitudes and Intensions

The online lessons have been evaluated and results show they are effective at improving students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intent when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy.

In the fall 2012 and spring 2013 semesters, 2,050 students participated in the evaluation from three colleges—Georgia Perimeter College, Palo Alto College, and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
After completing the lessons, both men and women were significantly more likely to:

  • Believe it is important to avoid becoming pregnant at this time in their lives or avoid getting someone pregnant;
  • Believe a pregnancy would make it more difficult to achieve their educational goals;
  • Feel comfortable talking to their doctor about birth control;
  • Have a clear plan for preventing unplanned pregnancy;
  • Know where in the community to get birth control other than condoms; and
  • Believe they will find a birth control method that fits their needs.

For full results of the evaluation, download Preventing Pregnancy and Completing College: An Evaluation of Online Lessons. In addition, the February 2014 issue of the League’s Innovation Showcaseincludes information about this research project.

Lessons Designed for Flexible Use

While they are especially appropriate for first-year experience (FYE) and other college success courses, the lessons can also be integrated into a variety of disciplines, such as health, sociology, human sexuality, and nursing, among others. Furthermore, they can be used as part of a college’s orientation program or as an activity in residence halls, wellness centers, or student health centers.

Faculty Feedback

At Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, the lessons are used in conjunction with the Health and Wellness section of the college’s FYE course. Julie McLaughlin, the college’s FYE coordinator, says, “We use the lessons because of the statistic that more than 60 percent of community college students who get pregnant never finish college! Students must complete the lessons and a worksheet we have created to go along with them. We then discuss it all in class. Most of the time students are very surprised at what they learn in the lessons and share that the lessons really made them think about their sexual choices.”   

Professor Jessyca Perez has used the lessons in her psychology and Student Life Skills courses at Miami Dade College. “I am always in search of resources that will help our students achieve success and college completion…. Once the students completed the lessons and gave their feedback, I knew this was the right program for them. I am looking forward to doing the lessons again this term and sharing it with other faculty at my college.”

It was important that the lessons present information about birth control in an educational, objective way. Professor Perez mentioned that her students appreciated this aspect and said, “Some students resisted at first because they feared this would violate their morals or religious beliefs. However, after completing the lessons voluntarily, they felt safe and they felt that they learned a great deal. Their feedback indicated that they did not feel forced towards one method or another.”

A special effort was also made to ensure that content is relevant to both male and female students. Professor Perez agreed that the lessons present birth control as both parties’ responsibility, and said, “The male students appreciated the section that was just for guys and many of them did not realize how many forms of contraception are available.

Lesson Features

Easy for Faculty to Adopt and Use

The lessons were developed so that all three can be completed in as little as 90 minutes, making them easy to integrate into a busy course schedule. Because the lessons are online, an instructor can choose his or her level of involvement in presenting the materials and can decide how much course or class time to devote to the topic. Some instructors assign the lessons as homework; others use the lessons, particularly lesson one, in class, basing class discussion on the lessons that students complete outside of class. Suggested ways to implement the lessons are presented in the Faculty Guide, which is discussed in more detail later in this article.

Furthermore, the lessons were developed to help faculty who believe preventing unplanned pregnancy is an important issue for their students, but who do not necessarily feel confident in their expertise or comfortable discussing the topic. Professor Perez pointed out that many professors are not comfortable speaking about sexual health with students. “However, in order to empower students to make an informed choice, there needs to be a place where they can go to learn to choose what is best for them. Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing Collegeprovides a safe place where students can explore and research many ways on preventing unplanned pregnancy and also learn about methods to avoid contracting an STD.”

In Lesson Two, students explore common myths and misinformation on Bedsider’s Fact or Fiction page.

Online Resources – Videos and Websites

The lessons use web-based resources so that they stand alone without the need for additional texts and so that they may be completed entirely online, ideally each lesson in one sitting. To make the issue accessible to students, the lessons feature videos of students discussing their experiences and attitudes toward unplanned pregnancy and pregnancy prevention.
The online lessons utilize Bedsider.org as the main resource about birth control. Bedsider is an online birth control support network operated by The National Campaign. Bedsider is independent and the information on it is honest, accurate, and unbiased. Its goal is to help people find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively. Its tone, while always factual, is often humorous and light. Bedsider was designed for women ages 18-29, though it also appeals to women over 30 as well as young men, and students have expressed that they appreciate the tone and content.

Lesson content is designed to be relevant to both men and women.

Interactive Learning Activities and Ungraded Self-Checks

Each lesson includes interactive learning activities. Ungraded self-checks not only help students assess their knowledge but provide a learning experience by giving them information as part of the feedback system.

The interactive self-check activities help reinforce concepts.

Student Assessment for Credit or Grade

At the end of each lesson, students take a brief assessment, the results of which are turned in to faculty for credit or a grade.

Study Guides

Each lesson includes a study guide to help focus student attention on the relevant points. Completing these guides as they work through the lessons helps students prepare for the scored quizzes at the end of each lesson.

Action Plan

Lesson Three includes an Action Plan to help students get organized and follow through on their own goals to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Lesson Details

Lesson One: Why Should You Care About Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy?

Students will understand the impact of unplanned pregnancy on their

  • Educational goals,
  • Social life,
  • Work,
  • Significant relationships, and
  • Finances.

In this lesson, both male and female students tell their stories about what happened to them as a result of unplanned pregnancies. Students also learn some of the facts about unplanned pregnancy among college students, as well as about the financial impact of unplanned pregnancy—resources present the cost of raising a child and the effect of dropping out of college on potential future income.

Lesson Two: How Much Do You Know About Sex and Birth Control?

Students will

  • Identify common birth control myths,
  • Evaluate their knowledge about birth control, sex, and STIs,
  • Identify the effectiveness and costs of each birth control method, 
  • Identify a number of birth control methods, and
  • Identify the birth control method or methods that are right for them.

This lesson focuses on two major topics, asking students “What do you know about sex and birth control?” and “Which birth control method is right for you?” Using the Bedsider website as a resource, students learn about birth control methods and view videos of young men and women discussing their birth control choices and their relationships. Additionally, Bedsideraddresses major myths and magical thinking about sex and birth control that put students in danger of having an unplanned pregnancy.

Learning activities include interactive self-checks and immediate feedback, and, therefore, serve as learning devices. Students are asked to compare various methods in order to identify which are most effective.

A study guide for each lesson helps students identify important concepts and information.

Lesson Three:  Make a Plan and Take Action

Students will

  • Identify how students can obtain various types of birth control,
  • Identify the birth control method or methods that are right for them,
  • Find healthcare providers and resources near where they live,
  • Talk to their healthcare provider and their sexual partner(s) about birth control,
  • Create and “action plan” to prevent unplanned pregnancy, and
  • Find additional resources.

This lesson helps students identify the best birth control method(s) to fit their individual values, relationships, and lifestyles. Students do a ZIP-code-based search to identify sources for birth control in their communities. Students also learn strategies for talking about sex and birth control with their partner or potential partners, as well as with their healthcare providers. Additionally, the lesson prompts students to use the Bedsider appointment and birth control reminder features, which can be delivered to students’ email or sent as texts to their mobile devices.

An Action Plan worksheet provides students with steps to help them prevent unplanned pregnancy, including identifying where and how to get their preferred birth control methods in their communities. Due to the personal nature of information on the Action Plan, faculty do not collect the Action Plan.

Finally, lesson three provides students with links to social media to help them stay connected with the issue and a Resource Summary sheet that lists resources used in the lesson, as well as other related resources.

Faculty Guide

The Faculty Guide provides details for quick and efficient implementation of the lessons, as well as suggested assignments based on the lessons. Many of these implementation strategies and assignments were suggested by the 18 faculty who reviewed or piloted the lessons during the spring 2012 semester. The majority of these faculty members teach first-year experience or orientation courses. Suggestions include pair or small group activities, reaction paper topics, discussion topics, guest speaker ideas, student research/presentation ideas, and alternative suggestions for LGBT students.

A variety of handouts are also included with the lessons. Each handout is easily modified with instructor, course, and assignment information. The Student Study Guide and Action Plan are in Rich Text Format so that students may fill them out electronically. These documents are available for download within the lessons.  

Next Steps

In addition to being flexible and easy to use for faculty, the three lessons in Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College can help students reach their educational goals. They’re not only engaging for students, but also effective at helping them think about and take action on something that can affect their ability to succeed in college and with other life goals. We hope you will consider integrating these lessons into the important work you do to educate your students. Please 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 cstorin@thenc.org or 202.478.8519.


Bradbun, E. M. (2002). Short-term enrollment in postsecondary education: Student background and institutional differences in reasons for early departure, 1996–98, NCES 2003–153. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Kaye, K., Suellentrop, K., & Sloup C. (2009). The fog zone: How misperceptions, magical thinking, and ambivalence put young adults at risk for unplanned pregnancy. Washington, DC: The National Campaign.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (2008). Magical thinking: Young adults’ attitudes and beliefs about sex, contraception, and unplanned pregnancy. Washington, DC: Author.

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

Virginia Kirk, Professor Emeritus and former Director of Distance Learning at Howard Community College (MD), is an educational consultant specializing in e-learning. She is co-developer with Bobbi Dubins, instructional designer and FYE faculty at Allegany College of Maryland, of Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy and Completing College.

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


Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 01/27/2014 at 9:00 AM | Categories: Learning Abstracts -