Intervention for retention through distance education: A comparison study
This project was successful in influencing student retention in distance education, both for first time and returning students, through purposeful interventions such as pre-enrolment counselling, firmer late-enrolment procedures, and the further activities of academic support personnel.
Mark Nichols, Laidlaw College
Date published - March 2011
To improve student retention in distance education, Simpson (2003) suggests that institutions analyse their own retention characteristics and ‘spot the leaks’. Such an approach need not be limited to large-scale distance education operations or even to complex interventions for real success to result. In 2008 the Laidlaw College Centre for Distance Learning (CDL) employed two part-time Academic Support Coordinators in an effort to improve student retention and success. This study quantitatively compares student outcomes across two semesters, one without and one with specific course retention interventions, and investigates the reasons for student dropout and retention across two semesters (Semester One, 2008 and Semester One, 2009). Results are benchmarked across national data.
Quantitative surveys (2008, n= 28; 2009, n= 23) followed by interviews with a smaller sample (2008, n=15; 2009, n=15) were conducted with Semester One students. The Semester One 2008 sample consisted of those CDL students who had withdrawn from or had not completed at least one of their courses that semester, in order to explore what lay behind the outcome. The Semester One 2009 sample consisted of those students who were first-year and potentially ‘at risk’ students who had successfully completed their courses, to investigate the reasons for their success. Response rates to the quantitative surveys were 55% (2008 sample) and 52% (2009 sample).
Across two comparable student groups the interventions of a compulsory student support survey, orientation course, general messages of support and personal contact with students requesting help improved the course retention of first-time distance students from 57% in 2008 to 81.7% in 2009. This improvement across the first-time student group translates to the retention of 9 EFTS for CDL. Across its entire student group, CDL retained approximately 14.5 EFTS as a direct result of the four interventions. From the Semester One, 2008 students it was found that there is no discernable pattern to student withdrawal however the Semester One, 2009 results demonstrate that support services make a demonstrable improvement in retention.
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