A Preliminary Examination of Doctoral Student Retention Factors in Private Online Workspaces

Cathrine (Cathy) Ames, Ronald Berman, Alex Casteel
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 079-107

The purpose of this quantitative descriptive study is to provide a preliminary examination of students’ retention factors of engagement, communication, and isolation that may be affected by the introduction and use of online communities for dissertation development within an online doctoral program.

This research is a continuation of the university’s 5-year research initiative to address the high national rate of doctoral attrition by investigating whether private online workspaces provide a virtual platform to increase student interaction, enhance student communication, and reduce student perception of isolation.

A quantitative descriptive study of 698 doctoral students (n1 = 355, n2 = 179, n3 = 184) in the online environment across three survey periods over a span of 30 months.

In 30 months, student engagement increased, perceptions of effective communication by students with dissertation committees improved, and student perceptions of isolation remained unchanged.

The implementation of online workspaces for doctoral students addressed factors experienced in online doctoral programs. The introduction of private doctoral workspaces significantly improved doctoral students’ perceptions of more effective communication with their dissertation committees. Perceptions of isolation remained unchanged with the introduction of the technology.

Universities and faculty should make proactive efforts to utilize the online tools available to them to facilitate improved communication and reduce isolation within online doctoral programs.

The implementation of online workspaces appears to mitigate some factors associated with student attrition, but the extent of these changes is unknown. Future research should continue to examine the factors of retention as a pathway to reducing attrition within the online learning environment.

The implementation of private online workspaces appears to lessen factors associated with student attrition, providing opportunities for improved utilization of personal and university resources, improved professional standing for graduates, and an enhanced reputation for online learning programs.

Further examination is needed to determine to what extent various communication methods affect a student’s experience and increase connectivity between the student and the institution, as well as research to better understand the phenomenon of students’ perceptions of isolation within online environments.

online learning, private workspaces, retention, attrition, isolation, communica-tion, student engagement, connectedness, doctoral programs
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