CCE Theses and Dissertations

A Model to Increase Persistence in Postsecondary Online Learning

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell


High attrition rates are of serious administrative and public relations concerns for higher education institutions. High attrition rates could be an indication of permanently failing organizations, those whose performances, by any standard, fan short of expectations. It is imperative that colleges identify what leads distance education (DE) students to drop out so that appropriate preventative measures may be taken. There have been innumerable studies done on improving the quality of DE and on the subject of student attrition. However, two important factors remain unexplored.

The development of advanced technologies in the last decade has had an important impact on education. The World Wide Web (WWW) has significantly changed the way we live, learn, work, and communicate. It has also revolutionized teaching and learning in many positive and effective ways. As a result, the Internet is quickly becoming the predominant technology used by higher education institutions to deliver DE courses. Yet, few attrition studies have been based solely on online DE. Published studies have approached persistence by using various models to predict attrition and contain factors such as personal, family, and economic considerations that institutions have limited power to control or affect. The approach this study used was to identify specific areas of students' needs and satisfaction, relevant to OLEs that are controllable by the institution by using both qualitative and quantitative data: 1) responses of a web-based priority/ agreement survey find out by online students, faculty and administrators/advisors; and 2) semi-structured, open-ended e-mail surveys.

The qualitative and quantitative methods used in this study enabled the researcher to identify how effectively institutions are delivering what online adult students expect, need and want. The results from both approaches converged in certain categories providing complementary evidence to reinforce the study's results. Starkly contrasting responses were found between the students' quantitative and qualitative answers and the administrators' /advisors' answers, concerning the institutions ability to satisfy students in the area of instructional effectiveness.

One of the qualitative questions in the study indicated several factors, not accounted for in previous studies, which are perceived to be of vital importance by the students surveyed. Recurring suggestions indicated the need for tutoring, mentoring, orientation, training, and examples of quality work. Another very important finding to emerge was the fact that the instructor has the greatest potential to affect persistence through factors directly under his control. The findings concluded that institutions may not be prioritizing the persistence agenda in a manner that proves most effective. Building upon the foundation of previously published studies and focusing upon factors within control of the institution, a model to increase persistence in postsecondary online education was developed.

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