Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The influence of engagement upon success and persistence of online undergraduates
by Dexter, Paul D., Ph.D., University of Southern Maine, 2015, 181; 3723157
Abstract (Summary)

Institutions of higher education, states, and government agencies are seeking avenues for increasing access, improving learning outcomes, and increasing student retention. The majority of chief academic officers polled indicate that online learning is key to the growth of their institutions, while simultaneously indicating concern that online learners are less likely to succeed and persist. A common construct for how institutions can facilitate student success and persistence is the notion of engagement. Since 2000, campuses have relied upon the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to guide institutional policies and practices supporting student success. The research on the applicability of the NSSE to online learning is scarce. This ex post facto quantitative study explored the relationship between scores on the ten NSSE Engagement Indicators and two widely used measures of student success: grade point average (GPA) and persistence.

The study sample comprised students from five public state institutions that had administered the NSSE during the 2013 and 2014 cycles. Statistical tests were employed to examine potential differences between online and non-online learners. A small significant difference in GPA was discovered, with online learners having a higher average GPA than non-online counterparts. There was no significant difference in rates of persistence between the groups. Regression analyses revealed no statistically significant relationship between Engagement Indicator scores and either GPA or persistence.

The study findings did not support assertions in the field that online learners are less likely to succeed than non-online learners. The findings were contrary to previous research on the role of engagement in the equation of student success and persistence. Differences in NSSE scores between online learners and non-online learners offered evidence of how those groups may be distinct. The study suggests the need for delineating NSSE results based upon different groups of students, and brings into question the applicability of the engagement construct for online learners. The need to clearly and consistently define “online” becomes a critical aspect of the discussion. Recommendations for policy and practice are offered, including the importance of addressing attrition bias, and a caution on making inferential interpretations with descriptive statistics from a survey.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beaudry, Jeffrey
Commitee: Cummings, Glenn, Kimball, Walter
School: University of Southern Maine
Department: Muskie School of Public Service
School Location: United States -- Maine
Source: DAI-A 77/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Public policy, Higher education
Keywords: College students, Online learning, Student engagement, Student persistence, Success
Publication Number: 3723157
ISBN: 978-1-339-05820-7
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