CEC Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Steven Terrell

Committee Member

Donna Kennedy

Committee Member

Michael Lohle


Attrition in online learning is a problem that faces many institutions of higher education that are turning to online programs as cost-effective means by which to bring about fiscal viability. There is a strong demand for online learning options by students due to the flexibility they afford to be able to work and study while also caring for a family, as well as economic benefits such as a quick and affordable degree. However, many of the reasons that students choose online learning end up being a catalyst for lack of completion, especially among underserved populations. While there is much research currently available on persistence in higher education and much available regarding online learning, there is a dearth of research on the lack of persistence of African-American students in online learning programs. This research was originally designed to take a grounded theory approach to investigating the factors affecting college completion among African Americans with a specific focus on online learning. Due to a small participant response rate, a phenomenological data analysis methodology was employed instead. This study examined participants' recollections of their experience as students in an online undergraduate program, focusing on their reasons for leaving.

Forty-nine African-American students who had left their undergraduate online program at New England College were invited to participate in this study. Ten responded and six semi-structured interviews were completed focusing on the question, "Why did you choose to leave the program?" Four themes emerged: (a) lack of integration; (b) personal issues; (c) discomfort with technology; and (d) age. The findings were congruent with current research in online learning attrition and not culturally specific. Recommendations resulted from the data analysis in three major areas: (a) inclusive course development; (b) faculty training; and (c) student support. These recommendations should be considered by faculty and administrators in order to develop more inclusive online learning programs that maximize the success of all students.

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