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22st Annual OLC International Conference
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An Examination of Factors That Impact the Retention of Online Students At a For-Profit University

Chris Sorensen (Ashford University, USA)
Additional Authors
Judy Donovan (Ashford University, USA)
Session Information
October 16, 2015 - 11:45am
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Northern Hemisphere A1
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 11

Research investigating factors that contribute to students' discontinuing their studies in the College of Education at for profit online university will be presented.

Extended Abstract

Research investigating factors that contribute to students' discontinuing their studies in the College of Education at for profit online university will be presented. Results may be applicable to other universities offering online courses and programs. Key variables of interest include student supplied reasons for dropping, program retention and persistence rates, last course completed or attempted, course completion rates, class size, student GPA, and academic program. The research questions focus on identifying factors that influence a student's decision to drop out of an online academic program, the correlations between the key variables of interest, and an examination of differences between the level of study, academic program, and the key variables of interest.

This research project is utilizing a non-experimental mixed-methods research design focused on a population consisting of former graduate and undergraduate students at Ashford University in the College of Education (COE) who dropped out without providing a specific reason.

Data collection is occurring in a few stages and via several methods. It is believed that by using a mixed methods approach to the data collection, a more comprehensive picture of student retention can be created.

The first stage of data collection: An initial sample of students who dropped out without providing a reason was identified, and a survey request and link was emailed to these students. In addition, data was pulled from University databases (i.e. student GPAs, how many courses they took prior to dropping out, their program of study), and existing data on program retention and persistence rates was obtained.

The second stage of data collection: Included online classroom walk-throughs on a randomly selected smaller group from the initial pool of participants. Classroom walk-throughs allowed the researchers to gather data on the quality of student work, the quality of the instructors, as well as the quality of course design.

The third stage of data collection: Will consist of interviews with another smaller sample from the initial pool of survey participants who indicated a willingness to be interviewed. These in-depth interviews will be based on all data collected about the students' and instructors' performances, course design, institutional data, and survey responses, to develop targeted lines of questioning that uncover student reasons for discontinuing in the program and college.

The goal of the research is to provide further insight into why students drop out of online programs. Results will be presented and discussed at the conference presentation. It is expected (and preliminary results support) that there are factors that lead to students dropping out or discontinuing their education that are within the institutions' control. It is expected that some of these factors may be familiar to researchers but that others will add new information to the field. For example, a unique aspect of this study is to compare student success (in terms of completing their program) to data collected in the introductory course designed to improve student success. Findings may impact the Student Success course content. Once the factors are identified, institutions can begin to implement strategies to address the factors they have the ability to address. Examples of such factors that institutions may have more control over are course design, course quality, instructor quality, and student support services. Examples of factors that institutions may have less control over would be the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or other drastic life events. However, while institutions may not have control over all factors, how they support students or react to life events may well determine if students persist or end their studies. Student interview data especially will indicate how institutions, colleges, programs and instructors can improve procedures to increase student retention.

A summary of the data will be submitted for the conference proceedings and the presentation slideshow will be made available on the conference website. It is expected that each attendee will gain an increased understanding of why students discontinue their studies, and what they can do to help more students be successful in completing their program.