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Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Educational Administration and Leadership

First Advisor

Dennis Brennan

First Committee Member

Fred Muskal

Second Committee Member

Bea Lingenfelter

Third Committee Member

Louis Wildman


This study investigated the perceptions of quality held by undergraduate students enrolled in an online degree program, and examined the connections between these perceptions and retention in an online learning environment. Three main research questions guided this study: (1) What are the characteristics of quality that are desirable for academic success in online distance education? (2) How well does the university manage selection and retention of students and control dropout rates in online learning environment? and; (3) How well does the university foster learning based on information about (a) student engagement, (b) the time and effort students devote to educationally sound activities (within and outside the classroom), (c) policies and practices the institution uses to induce students to take part in those activities, and (d) policies and practices at their institution, even if unintended, that hinder students' full participation? What are the connections between student perception of quality and retention in an online learning environment? A group of students at a medium-sized state university in central California composed of sophomores, juniors and seniors enrolled in a psychology course participated in interviews. The study employed a qualitative method to collect opinions and data from students who chose to learn in an online environment, examined students' experiences, determined those efforts that promote or hinder learning and higher student retention as perceived by the students, and presented from three main domains; (a) administration, (b) faculty, and (c) students. The findings of the study indicate that some of the characteristics of quality perceived by students as desirable include individual discipline and instructors that are more understanding and encourage students to learn. Administrative and technical support was also rated high on the list. Overall, students desired programs that were convenient and provided sufficient flexibility to accommodate other of life's challenges. The study confirmed expert opinions that when a student has positive personal experiences, possesses positive individual motivation, in an environment with positive attrition factors, it is predictable that the student could attain completion of course or program. The connections between the student's perception of quality and retention then are those personal experiences, individual motivation and positive attrition factors within the distance education learning culture. The quality of these connection variables determines a student's commitment to complete online education and commitment to the university.





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