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Attrition and completion in distance education : the student's perspective Brindley, Jane E. 1987

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ATTRITION AND COMPLETION IN DISTANCE EDUCATION: THE STUDENT'S PERSPECTIVE by JANE E. BRINDLEY B.A., U n i v e r s i t y o f A l b e r t a , 1976 THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS i n THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of C o u n s e l l i n g Psychology) We accept t h i s t h e s i s as conforming t o the r e q u i r e d standard The U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia J u l y , 1987 (c) Jane E. B r i n d l e y , 1987 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia 1956 Main Mall Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Y3 DE-6(3/81) i i ABSTRACT This was an exploratory study which used Flanagan's (1954) C r i t i c a l Incident Technique to examine students' experiences i n taking t h e i r f i r s t distance education course. S p e c i f i c a l l y , the study asked what incidents hindered or f a c i l i t a t e d persistence, and i f reports of experiences from completers were d i f f e r e n t from those of non-completers. The 40 subjects f o r the sample were drawn at random from selected courses at Athabasca University, an open admission distance education i n s t i t u t i o n serving students across Canada. A l l students were able to i d e n t i f y incidents which hindered or f a c i l i t a t e d t h e i r progress. A mean of 6.6 incidents was reported per student. From the 2 65 incidents reported, 13 Basic Categories were formed, with a r e l i a b i l -i t y of 94%. Only one category had les s than 20% of students reporting i n i t . The highest proportion of students report-ing i n one category was 80%. S i g n i f i c a n t factors a f f e c t i n g a t t r i t i o n i n distance education emerged from the study, as did findings about the s i m i l a r i t i e s and differences between the experiences of com-pl e t e r s and non-completers. Suggestions f o r how the f i n d -ings might contribute to the development of a model of a t t r i t i o n and retention strategies are included i n the d i s -cussion. i i i TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE ABSTRACT i i TABLE OF CONTENTS i i i LIST OF TABLES v i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v i i CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 1 Background: Distance Education as the Answer for Adult Learners 1 Statement of Problem and Purpose of Study 4 D e f i n i t i o n of Terms 5 Research Questions and Rationale 6 Setting 7 Delimitations of Study 8 Summary 9 CHAPTER I I . REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 11 Introduction 11 Problem with Defining A t t r i t i o n and Retention 12 Student C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s Related to A t t r i t i o n 14 Demographic Factors 15 Academic Factors 18 Motivational Factors 20 Personality Factors 22 Summary: Student C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s 24 I n s t i t u t i o n a l C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s Related to A t t r i t i o n . 24 Size/Image/Status 26 Housing 27 Student-Faculty Interaction 27 Student Support Services 29 Other I n s t i t u t i o n a l Factors i n Distance Education 31 Peer Group Influence 31 External Environmental Factors Related to A t t r i t i o n .... 32 Fin a n c i a l Factors 33 Outside Encouragement 34 Change i n Circumstances 35 i v PAGE CHAPTER I I . REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE (continued) Reasons f o r Drop-out Provided by Students 3 6 Academic Reasons/Dissatisfaction with I n s t i t u t i o n 37 Fin a n c i a l Reasons 37 Motivational Reasons 38 Change i n Circumstances 39 Theoretical Models of A t t r i t i o n 40 Retention Strategies 47 Recruitment/Information 47 Admissions P o l i c i e s 48 Orientation Programmes 48 Assessment and Counselling 48 Student/Faculty Interactions 49 Summary: Retention Strategies 49 Research Method 49 CHAPTER I I I . METHODOLOGY 52 Subject Selection 52 Description of Subjects 53 I n i t i a l Contact Process 56 The Interview 56 Recording and Sorting of Data 59 CHAPTER IV. RESULTS 61 Description of Basic Categories 62 (1) Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t i o n .. 62 (2) Personalized Instr u c t i o n a l Support 63 (3) Discovery about the Course/Support Materials/Approach 63 (4) Pre-Course Preparation/Prior Expectations 64 (5) Received Encouragement/Support from Source Outside of the University 65 (6) Deadlines and Schedules 65 (7) Personal R e a l i z a t i o n 66 (8) Thoughts about Longer Term Goals 66 (9) Marks Received 67 (10) Changes i n Time Available/Circumstances ... 68 (11) Course Content 68 (12) Course Design 69 V PAGE CHAPTER IV. RESULTS (continued) (13) P r a c t i c a l A p p l i c a t i o n of L e a r n i n g 70 R e l i a b i l i t y o f B a s i c C a t e g o r i e s 70 B a s i c C a t e g o r i e s P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rate 71 Comparison of Completers and Non-Completers 72 CHAPTER V. DISCUSSION 76 Statement o f R e s u l t s 76 Change i n Time A v a i l a b l e o r Circumstances 77 P e r s o n a l R e a l i z a t i o n 79 P e r s o n a l i z e d I n s t r u c t i o n a l Support 80 D i s c o v e r y About the Course 82 Encouragement/Support from O u t s i d e the U n i v e r s i t y 83 Course Design 84 Pre-Course P r e p a r a t i o n / P r i o r E x p e c t a t i o n s 85 D e a d l i n e s and Schedules 86 Course Content 87 Student I n t e r a c t i o n w i t h the I n s t i t u t i o n 88 Marks Received 89 P r a c t i c a l A p p l i c a t i o n of L e a r n i n g 89 Thoughts about Longer Term Goals 90 I m p l i c a t i o n s f o r a Conceptual Model 91 I m p l i c a t i o n s f o r R e t e n t i o n S t r a t e g i e s 98 Recruitment and I n f o r m a t i o n 99 O r i e n t a t i o n Programs/Assessment S e r v i c e s 100 Other C o u n s e l l i n g Programs 101 S t a f f Development Role f o r C o u n s e l l o r s 102 Other Recommendations 102 L i m i t a t i o n s and Future Research 103 Summary 104 REFERENCES 106 APPENDICES I l l Appendix I - L e t t e r o f I n i t i a l Contact I l l Appendix I I - Consent Form 112 v i LIST OF TABLES PAGE Ta b l e I Comparison of C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s o f Sample S u b j e c t s w i t h those o f T o t a l Student P o p u l a t i o n 55 T a b l e I I B a s i c C a t e g o r i e s P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rate ... 72 T a b l e I I I Comparison o f P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rates i n C a t e g o r i e s Between Completers and Non-Completers 74 T a b l e IV Comparison o f R a t i o s Between F a c i l i t a t i n g and H i n d e r i n g I n c i d e n t s i n C a t e g o r i e s f o r Completers and Non-Completers 75 v i i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I t takes a great deal of patience, t a l e n t , and e f f o r t to produce a work of t h i s s i z e — more than one per-son can provide. I thank Trudy Harrington f o r her s k i l l s and i n c r e d i b l e patience at the computer terminal, Doug Shale fo r h i s ideas and contributions to the references, and Ross Paul f o r h i s f i n e e d i t i n g , constructive c r i t i c i s m , and car-ing support, and a l l other family, friends, and colleagues who gave encouragement and advice. 1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Background: Distance Education as the Answer fo r Adult  Learners During the past three decades i n North America, demographic, s o c i a l , and technological changes have acted as c a t a l y s t s i n sending adults back into the educational sys-tem. The move toward recurrent and further education by the post-university age i n d i v i d u a l i s s t r i k i n g . Every year more adults are p a r t i c i p a t i n g i n formal education, and demo-graphic projections indicate that t h i s trend w i l l continue, while the numbers of younger students w i l l diminish (Brod-z i n s k i , 1980; Greenfeig and Goldberg, 1984; Report of Task Force on Mature Students, 1983). During the past 10 to 15 years, North American c o l -leges and u n i v e r s i t i e s have begun to recognize t h i s trend and have attempted to accommodate the adult student i n a number of ways (Cross, 1981). However, despite t h e i r deter-mined e f f o r t s to become more accessible to t h i s population, there are s t i l l major obstacles facing the adult returning to a t r a d i t i o n a l i n s t i t u t i o n . Many adults believe that edu-cation i s s t i l l too r i g i d i n i t s formal requirements, i s s t i l l too c o s t l y , and i s t y p i c a l l y unavailable at the times 2 and places most needed (Heffernan, Macy, and Vickers, 1976; Taaffe and Rocco, 1981; Report of Task Force on Mature Stu-dents, 1983) . In the face of these b a r r i e r s to further education, adults have demanded new modes of learning. Distance educa-t i o n , because of i t s f l e x i b l e nature, has been heralded by some as the key to providing learning s i t u a t i o n s which can be adapted to the i n d i v i d u a l requirements of adults leading complex l i v e s i n which being a student i s only one of many ro l e s . Athabasca University i n Alberta, Tele-universite i n Quebec, and the Open Learning I n s t i t u t e i n B r i t i s h Columbia are three Canadian i n s t i t u t i o n s which are attempting to pro-vide u n i v e r s i t y l e v e l education through distance learning methods fo r adults who e i t h e r cannot or choose not to attend a t r a d i t i o n a l campus-based u n i v e r s i t y . Self-reports from t h e i r students indicate that adults f i n d distance education an a t t r a c t i v e option f o r reasons of economics, time f l e x i -b i l i t y , and geography (Smyrnew, 1983; Tele-universite, 1986). And enrolment s t a t i s t i c s from these i n s t i t u t i o n s i n d icate that distance education i n s t i t u t i o n s may be the f a s t e s t growing a l t e r n a t i v e i n the post-secondary scene i n Canada (AU Trends, #1, 1985; Tele-universite, 1986). While i t i s true that distance education i n s t i t u t i o n s have removed many of the t r a d i t i o n a l b a r r i e r s to adult p a r t i c i p a t i o n which are c i t e d i n the l i t e r a t u r e , and the majority of d i s -tance learners are adults (Coldeway, 1982b, 1986; Holmberg, 3 1982), the r e s u l t s achieved by t h i s mode of study are not as successful as o r i g i n a l l y hoped. Distance education univer-s i t i e s throughout the world appear to have high a t t r i t i o n rates r e l a t i v e to those of t r a d i t i o n a l u n i v e r s i t i e s (Losty and Broderson, 1980; Shale, 1982; van Wijk, 1983; Holmberg, 1982) . The drop-out issue i s a major concern f o r distance educators. Indeed, i t has been said that the rate of drop-out constitutes the most s i g n i f i c a n t c r i t e r i o n f o r decisions about improvements or changes to systems of distance educa-t i o n (Rekkedal, 1981). At the most recent conferences of the International Council of Distance Education (Vancouver, 1982, and Melbourne, 1985), a number of the papers given, and much of the discussion among delegates focussed on the d e s c r i p t i o n of the a t t r i t i o n problem and treatments f o r i t . At i n s t i t u t i o n s such as Athabasca University, where f l e x i b i l i t y and an open approach to education i s r e f l e c t e d not only i n the use of distance distance teaching methods, but also i n an open admissions p o l i c y , the problem of a t t r i -t i o n i s of even greater concern than at distance teaching i n s t i t u t i o n s where t r a d i t i o n a l entrance requirements are maintained. The ideals of an i n s t i t u t i o n such as Athabasca Un i v e r s i t y must be balanced against the actual experience i t provides f o r students. Currently, the a t t r i t i o n rate at Athabasca i s approximately 56% across a l l courses (AU Trends, #2, 1985, p. 6). I t has been said that there i s a r i s k of the open door becoming a revolving door (Paul, 1986, 4 p. 138) where students are encouraged to enrol i n a course, and then f i n d themselves unable to complete i t . C l e a r l y , i f distance education i s to become a major shaping force i n s o c i e t i e s a l l over the world, as suggested i n the preface to Learning at a Distance (Daniel, Stroud, and Thompson, 1982), the issue of a t t r i t i o n w i l l have to be examined i n much greater d e t a i l so that the experience of students can be more f u l l y understood, and treatments can be applied which w i l l encourage students to p e r s i s t . As Finkel (1982) points out, adult students should not have to balance the conveni-ence of learning i n t h e i r own home against the l i k e l i h o o d of f a i l u r e i f they choose distance education as t h e i r mode of study. Statement of Problem and Purpose of the Study I t i s a dilemma, from an i n s t i t u t i o n a l perspective, that so many distance education students choose not to con-tinue toward a goal which they have chosen f o r themselves. P a r t i c u l a r l y f o r i n s t i t u t i o n s such as Athabasca University where there i s a strong commitment to the removal of bar-r i e r s from the path of the adult learner, i t i s imperative to f i n d out more about the experiences of students which lead them to withdraw or p e r s i s t with t h e i r study. The purpose of t h i s exploratory study i s to examine students' experiences i n t h e i r homestudy courses, s p e c i f i -c a l l y , to f i n d out i f they can i d e n t i f y s i g n i f i c a n t concrete 5 incidents which e i t h e r f a c i l i t a t e or hinder t h e i r study, to see what kinds of common experiences students report, and hence to track the students' performance to f i n d i f experi-ences reported by completers are d i f f e r e n t or s i m i l a r i n any way to those of non-completers. The r e s u l t s of the study w i l l be used to i d e n t i f y s i g n i f i c a n t factors which might contribute to a t h e o r e t i c a l model of a t t r i t i o n and to pro-pose retention strategies f o r the adult distance learner. The information about students' experiences w i l l be gathered using the C r i t i c a l Incident Technique developed by John Flanagan (1954). I t i s an interview method f o r s o l i -c i t i n g concrete incidents which f a c i l i t a t e or hinder some aim, i n t h i s case, course completion. D e f i n i t i o n of Terms De f i n i t i o n s are provided f o r the following terms which are used i n p a r t i c u l a r ways i n t h i s study: (1) Completion/Persistence - completing a l l requirements and receiving a f i n a l grade i n a course-refers to the behaviour of a student i n a single course, i e . : a persister/completer. (2) Attrition/Drop-Out/Non-Completion - e n r o l l i n g i n a course but not completing the ent i r e course - r e f e r s to the behaviour of a student i n a sing l e course, i e . : a non-completer. I t includes a v a r i e t y of behaviours 6 such as v o l u n t a r i l y withdrawal, not s t a r t i n g , or stop-ping part way through the course. (3) Experience/Incident - a thought, f e e l i n g , an action, an observation, or an event which i s i d e n t i f i a b l e by the i n d i v i d u a l subject as having occurred. (4) F a c i l i t a t e s - makes a difference to the planned outcome or chosen goal i n a p o s i t i v e way. (5) Hinders - makes a difference to the planned outcome or chosen goal i n a negative way. Research Questions and Rationale Each year, as increasing numbers of adult students choose distance education f o r t h e i r learning resource, i t becomes more important that i n s t i t u t i o n s o f f e r them the best opportunity f o r success. The ultimate r a t i o n a l e for t h i s study i s to see how the data c o l l e c t e d might inform planning for student support services i n a distance education i n s t i -t u t i o n . I f there are "avoidable" drop-outs, then s e l f -reports of students should be valuable information which can be applied to i n s t i t u t i o n a l strategies to reduce non-completion. 7 This study addresses three questions i n t h i s regard: (1) What experiences do students i d e n t i f y as being s i g n i f i -cant i n hindering or f a c i l i t a t i n g completion of a d i s -tance education course? (2) Are the experiences of completers and non-completers d i f f e r e n t or s i m i l a r i n any way? (3) How can the self-reported experiences of distance learners contribute to the development of a model of a t t r i t i o n and retention strategies f o r distance educa-t i o n students? Setting The study examines the a t t r i t i o n phenomenon at Atha-basca University, a distance education i n s t i t u t i o n serving a population of approximately 8,000 students across Canada (primarily i n Alberta and B r i t i s h Columbia). Athabasca Univ e r s i t y s p e c i a l i z e s i n distance education involving a v a r i e t y of media, p r i m a r i l y p r i n t and telephone, but i n c l u d -ing audio and video tapes, t e l e v i s i o n , and teleconferencing. The i n s t i t u t i o n currently o f f e r s baccalaureate degrees i n arts and science, and administrative studies, as well as a number of t r a n s f e r programs. Students are predominantly working adults, and the majority are female. The only admission requirement i s that a student be 18 years of age or older. Students can enrol i n most courses at any time of 8 the year, and proceed at t h e i r own pace within s p e c i f i e d timelines, (six months fo r a half-year or semester course and twelve months fo r a f u l l - y e a r course). A student who enrols i n a course receives a package of i n s t r u c t i o n a l materials including textbooks, study guides, student manual, and other aids depending on the course and d i s c i p l i n e . The student i s also assigned to a telephone tutor who i s a subject matter expert f o r that course, and whom the student may consult by telephone on a v a r i e t y of issues. The o v e r a l l a t t r i t i o n rate f o r Athabasca Un i v e r s i t y courses i s approximately 56% (AU Trends, #2, 1985, p. 6). This rate i s consistent with that of other i n s t i t u t i o n s of i t s type worldwide (Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983) . Delimitations of Study Although the 40 subjects i n the study were chosen at random from selected courses, they turned out to be representative of the t o t a l Athabasca Uni v e r s i t y population i n a number of important ways. (See des c r i p t i o n of subjects i n Chapter III.) The r e s u l t s , therefore, should be general-i z a b l e to that population. Some caution should be used i n generalizing the r e s u l t s across i n s t i t u t i o n s , p a r t i c u l a r l y where there are major differences such as entrance require-ments. As well i t should be noted that each year 60-70% of Athabasca University student body are new enrolments (AU 9 Trends #3, 1986, p. 4). Most AU students take only one or two courses (AU Trends, #3, 1986, p. 5). These students are not seeking a degree with Athabasca, but rather are interested only i n taking i n d i v i d u a l courses. Their behaviour and motivations may be d i f f e r e n t from students who are committed to a program of studies leading to a degree. More comparison studies are needed before any conclusions are reached i n t h i s regard. This research included both program and non-program students. Summary A t t r i t i o n has been i d e n t i f i e d as a problem by educa-t i o n a l i n s t i t u t i o n s f o r some time. The most often asked question i s 'why do students drop out?'. This may well be an o v e r - s i m p l i f i c a t i o n of a very complicated process. Any person, when asked to give 'reasons' f o r h i s or her behaviour i n a given s i t u a t i o n , can usually produce a r a t i o n a l l y based explanation that does not necessarily tap the complex inte r p l a y of thoughts, fe e l i n g s , and actions which occurred p r i o r to the incident and which were c r u c i a l to the type of behaviour exhibited i n the s i t u a t i o n . The study undertaken does not attempt to address reasons why students drop out. I t does recognize that i f students are to be successful at pursuing an educational goal which they have chosen f o r themselves, they need to know the things they do which are e f f e c t i v e and i n e f f e c t i v e , 10 what things w i l l help them or hinder them i n a t t a i n i n g that goal. From an i n s t i t u t i o n a l point of view, "the goal of a t t r i t i o n research i s f i r s t to obtain as complete an under-standing as possible, and then to apply t h i s knowledge to designing programs aimed at lowering a t t r i t i o n " (Pantages and Creedon, 1978, pp. 88-89). In order to propose counsel-l i n g treatments, i t i s necessary to f i n d out what a c t u a l l y hinders or f a c i l i t a t e s course completion from both the suc-c e s s f u l and unsuccessful (in terms of course completion) student's point of view. 11 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Introduction There i s a great body of l i t e r a t u r e regarding a t t r i -t i o n . Four of the most recent and comprehensive reviews have been c a r r i e d out by Tinto (1975), Pantages and Creedon (1978), Lenning, Beal, and Sauer (1980), and Bean and Metzner (1985). The f i r s t three reviews focus on younger f u l l - t i m e students at r e s i d e n t i a l campuses. The l a t t e r review by Bean and Metzner looks at older, part-time and commuter students. A l l are extremely useful i n providing t h e o r e t i c a l frameworks, c r i t i c i s m of research methodologies, summaries of the major findings and conclusions about them, as well as suggestions f o r improving retention. Research and writing about a t t r i t i o n of adult part-time students, p a r t i c u l a r l y those studying at a distance, i s a r e l a t i v e l y recent phenomenon. One of the reasons for t h i s i s that high a t t r i t i o n has been both expected and accepted as a c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of distance study. As Daniel and Mar-quis (1979) noted, "... when correspondence schools began, the idea of s u r v i v a l of the f i t t e s t was more acceptable than i t i s today..." However, more t r a d i t i o n a l p u b l i c l y funded educational i n s t i t u t i o n s , such as u n i v e r s i t i e s , have now 12 entered the f i e l d of distance education. These i n s t i t u t i o n s have a vested i n t e r e s t i n student retention, and have direc t e d resources toward studying and solving the drop-out problem. Retention of students has become one of the lead-ing issues f o r distance education p r a c t i t i o n e r s , and a number of studies have been c a r r i e d out over the past few years. Problems with Defining A t t r i t i o n and Retention The main body of research and l i t e r a t u r e regarding drop-out r e f e r s to dropping out of a program of studies (eg. one year c e r t i f i c a t e , two year diploma, four year degree). D e f i n i t i o n s of retention most often r e f e r to completing these programs i n the prescribed amount of time (Lenning et a l . , 1980). This d e f i n i t i o n i s obviously inappropriate for any student who i s not studying f u l l - t i m e i n a program. A new term 'stopping out' i s used to describe the behaviour of a temporary drop out who completes a program i n longer than the prescribed time. A few studies have shown that t h i s behaviour i s more common among f u l l - t i m e students than pre-v i o u s l y thought, and can sometimes increase the chances of eventual graduation (Lenning et a l . , 1980). With the increasing numbers of part-time adult stu-dents, i t i s necessary to develop new d e f i n i t i o n s of reten-t i o n and a t t r i t i o n . Bean and Metzner (1985), i n an attempt to provide a d e f i n i t i o n for "drop-out" appropriate to adult 13 students, described i t as someone "who e n r o l l s at an i n s t i -t u t i o n one semester but does not e n r o l l the next semester and has not completed h i s or her formally declared program of study." (p. 489). They acknowledged that stop-outs would not be d i f f e r e n t i a t e d from drop-outs using t h i s d e f i n i t i o n . Lenning et a l . , (1980) proposed that a generic d e f i n i t i o n of retention was "success i n achieving some goal or objective". This d e f i n i t i o n , while i t more c l e a r l y explains what a t t r i -t i o n i s , i s not very useful f o r research purposes. Obvi-ously, goals and objectives of students w i l l d i f f e r by i n s t i t u t i o n , and by i n d i v i d u a l . Some i n s t i t u t i o n s have developed t h e i r own d e f i n i t i o n of a t t r i t i o n and retention based on i n s t i t u t i o n a l and student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . A study by Shale (1982) of a t t r i t i o n at Athabasca Univ e r s i t y (AU) was successful i n c l e a r l y defining 'drop-out' at that i n s t i t u t i o n . Shale used a t t r i t i o n and comple-t i o n to describe the behaviour of a student i n a s i n g l e course and defined drop-out as a student "who enroled i n an AU course but d i d not successfully complete the ent i r e course (or portion contracted f o r ) " , (p. 114). He observed that d e f i n i t i o n s of dropping out of programs were l a r g e l y inappropriate f o r Athabasca University students since com-p l e t i o n of a f u l l degree program was seldom c i t e d by AU stu-dents as t h e i r goal upon entry. In a more recent study of a t t r i t i o n at Athabasca University (AU Trends, #2, 1985) the author cautioned against presupposing "that a l l AU students 14 enrol i n AU courses with the aim of gaining c r e d i t s " . (p. 1). He went on to suggest that even though students might show up on the u n i v e r s i t y records as having withdrawn from a course, they might have very well met t h e i r own goals. Cl e a r l y , caution must be exercised i n defining drop-out f o r research studies. I f the purpose of the research i s to improve retention, i n s t i t u t i o n s are perhaps best to define a t t r i t i o n and retention according to t h e i r own student populations, taking into consideration students' motives f o r study and t h e i r usual patterns of behaviour i n moving through courses and/or programs. At the same time, i t should be noted that usefulness to other researchers and educators i s an important consideration i n developing a d e f i n i t i o n . Pantages and Creedon (1978) pointed out some of the d i f f i c u l t i e s i n defining a t t r i t i o n and retention, and stated that "combining the findings from separate studies depends, i n part, on how a t t r i t i o n was operationally defined i n those studies". (p. 51). Student C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s Related to A t t r i t i o n Demographic c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , s c h o l a s t i c s records and aptitudes, personality and motivational factors, and finan-c i a l s i t u a t i o n s of students have a l l been examined to f i n d p r edictor v a r i a b l e s f o r student success. Some d i r e c t r e l a -tionships have been found, but must be used with caution. C o n f l i c t i n g reports are common. For example, while several 15 studies reviewed by Pantages and Creedon (1978) showed that older freshman were le s s l i k e l y that t h e i r younger counter-parts to complete a f u l l - t i m e four year degree program, stu-dies of si n g l e course completions at Athabasca University (AU Trends, #2, 1985) showed a strong trend i n the opposite d i r e c t i o n . This kind of difference i n r e s u l t s of studies of student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s as predictor variables f o r success points out the f a l l a b i l i t y of single v a r i a b l e correlates of drop-out, and the importance of taking contextual variables into consideration. Another caution i n looking at studies of the r e l a -t i o n s h i p between student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s and a t t r i t i o n i s that many of the studies have focused only on descriptions of c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of one group, drop-outs or p e r s i s t e r s , with no comparison group (Pantages and Creedon, 1978). Recent findings show that there may be considerable s i m i l a r -i t y between the two groups. A study of a t t r i t i o n i n the Regents External Degree Program (Taylor, 1983) which com-pared c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of ina c t i v e students to active and graduate students found that with the exception of gender, the groups d i d not vary greatly. Demographic Factors Both the Lenning et a l . (1980), and Pantages and Creedon (1978) reviews concluded that there was enough con-f l i c t i n g data to say that generally speaking, age was not a 16 primary fa c t o r i n a t t r i t i o n . The same reviews turned up s i m i l a r findings f o r sex. Again, there may be differences between the sexes depending upon context, and there i s some evidence that the reasons men and women give f o r dropping out may be d i f f e r e n t , but sex i s not considered a s i g n i f i -cant v a r i a b l e except as other factors are taken into con-s i d e r a t i o n . The same r e s u l t s do not appear to be true f o r d i s -tance education students. In recent studies completed at Athabasca Uni v e r s i t y (AU Trends, #2, 1985), there was a d e f i n i t e c o r r e l a t i o n between age of student and success rates. Just over one-third of students under the age of 25 suc c e s s f u l l y completed t h e i r courses while over one-half of those 35 and over successfully completed t h e i r s . Sex was also found to be a predictor v a r i a b l e . About 50% of women completed, compared with 38% of men. Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) produced s i m i l a r findings. Men dropped out of Open Univ e r s i t y courses more frequently than women, and students over the age of 30 had better success rates than younger students. Bartels (1982) also found at the FernUniversitat i n Germany that drop-out was highest among distance educa-t i o n students under the age of 25. On the other hand, he reported that women students discontinued t h e i r studies more frequently than men i n that i n s t i t u t i o n . Socioeconomic status was recognized by both the Pan-tages and Creedon (1978) and Lenning et a l . (1980) reviews 17 as a f a c t o r commonly believed to have a r e l a t i o n to a t t r i -t i o n . They also agreed that research r e s u l t s were not con-c l u s i v e . Socioeconomic status i s based on and r e l a t e d to so many other factors, i t i s d i f f i c u l t to i s o l a t e as a v a r i -able. Tinto (1975), i n h i s review of the l i t e r a t u r e , con-cluded that there was an inverse r e l a t i o n s h i p between family socioeconomic status and drop-out, but that socioeconomic status had many associated factors which might p a r t i a l l y or wholly account f o r t h i s . For example, Hackman and Dysinger (c i t e d i n Tinto, 1975) had shown that the family's expecta-tions f o r achievement emerged as being j u s t as important as the student's expectations i n influencing persistence. Len-ning et a l . (1980) stated that "the best conclusion may be that students of d i s t i n c t l y disadvantaged status are more prone to a t t r i t i o n but the operating variables may be l e v e l of f a m i l i a l a s p i r a t i o n , educational l e v e l of parents, per-sonal educational aspirations, and involvement with the c o l -lege", (p. 116). In a study of distance education students at the Open Un i v e r s i t y i n B r i t a i n , Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) found that there were p a r t i c u l a r l y high drop-out rates among new students by those i n manual occupations, the r e t i r e d , and the unemployed, and those i n i n s t i t u t i o n s such as prisons and h o s p i t a l s . This pattern, although l e s s marked, was the same for continuing students. Woodley and P a r l e t t d i d not speculate about factors associated with occupation, but 18 rather took the findings at face value along with a number of other c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , and concluded that i t i s possible to i d e n t i f y 'high r i s k ' students upon entry. I t appears from some of the differences i n conclusions among i n s t i t u -t i o n s , about who i s 'at r i s k ' , that the i d e n t i f i c a t i o n i s best done on an i n s t i t u t i o n a l basis. Academic Factors Scholastic measures of a l l kinds, secondary school standings, academic aptitude, previous academic background, and l e v e l achieved, have a l l been studied as correlates of persistence i n post-secondary studies. Pantages and Creedon (1978) stated that while such measures had been found to be the most s i g n i f i c a n t and consistent predictors of a t t r i t i o n , they s t i l l only accounted f o r a small proportion of t o t a l drop-outs. They went on to say that s c h o l a s t i c aptitude measures were better predictors of achievement than per-sistence. Tinto (1975) also acknowledged that most studies had shown a d i r e c t p o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n between past perfor-mance and achievement i n post-secondary studies, but noted that achievement was not the same as persistence. He specu-la t e d that a student's perception of h i s or her own a b i l i t y based on past experience could influence expectations for college education, and consequently commitment to the goal of completion. Lenning et a l . (1980) noted that, although most studies showed a s i g n i f i c a n t , p o s i t i v e r e l a t i o n s h i p between persistence and entrance examination scores, 19 students who dropped out v o l u n t a r i l y also t y p i c a l l y had scores which predicted success i n college. A major review of student a t t r i t i o n at federal service academies i n the United States (Department of Defense, Commerce, and Tran-sportation, 1976) concluded s i m i l a r l y that while combining measures of s p e c i f i c a b i l i t i e s into an o v e r a l l measure of a b i l i t y provided the best predictor of who would leave t h e i r studies, none of these c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s had been found to be r e l a t e d to voluntary resignation due to lack of motivation. A number of studies of adult distance learners have shown that, generally, the lower a person's previous educa-t i o n a l q u a l i f i c a t i o n s , the more l i k e l y he or she i s to drop-out (Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983; AU Trends, #2, 1985; Bartels, 1982). Kennedy and Powell (1976) used r e s u l t s of a study done at the Open University i n B r i t a i n to show that "lack of academic preparedness does seem to be a major fac-t o r i n many cases i n increasing the pressures upon a stu-dents 1 time and energy". They pointed out that "... while the majority of students possessing lower q u a l i f i c a t i o n s do not drop-out expressly f o r academic reasons, r e l a t i v e l y more of them do so than t h e i r better q u a l i f i e d counterparts". (P. 69). Another important academic factor r e l a t e d to per-sistence i s study habits. These may or may not be t i e d to previous l e v e l of education achieved. However, i t i s l i k e l y that i f an i n d i v i d u a l has already suc c e s s f u l l y achieved 20 progressively high l e v e l s of education, that he or she has developed study habits which are b e n e f i c i a l . Pantages and Creedon (1978) pointed to study habits as one of the obvious factors a f f e c t i n g persistence. They c i t e d research reports which measured the amount of time spent on studies, and i n which students rated t h e i r own study habits. In a l l cases, good study habits and/or greater numbers of study hours p o s i t i v e l y correlated with persistence. Lenning et a l . (1980) reported i d e n t i c a l conclusions i n t h e i r review. Bar-t e l s (1982) found the same p o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n between time spent studying and persistence f o r distance education stu-dents at the FernUniversitat. As well, quite a number of studies have shown that there i s a d i r e c t r e l a t i o n s h i p between getting started on a homestudy course immediately and completion of the course (see, f o r example, D i S i l v e s t r o and Markowitz, 1982). There appears to be no question that study habits have a d i r e c t impact on persistence f o r a l l students. Motivational Factors Pantages and Creedon (1978) i d e n t i f i e d a number of motivational factors which have been studied i n r e l a t i o n to college persistence. These include motivational l e v e l and commitment, reasons f o r attending, occupational goals, edu-c a t i o n a l i n t e r e s t , and family and peer group influence. They noted that these factors were among the most common reasons given by students f o r taking a decision to drop-out, 21 but went on to say that although studies had shown a r e l a -t i o n between motivational factors and a t t r i t i o n , no one had yet determined which, i f any, of the factors were p r e d i c t i v e or how they could be measured. Pantages and Creedon con-cluded that i t j u s t might be that motivational factors were f a r l e s s important i n determining persistence than had been assumed. Boshier (1978) s i m i l a r l y found that the r e l a t i o n -ship between motives fo r p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n and drop-out from adult education was s l i g h t and generally i n s i g n i f i c a n t . He cautioned the use of s i n g l e v a r i a b l e explanations of drop-out f o r p r e d i c t i v e purposes. From t h e i r reviews, Lenning et a l . (1980) reported evidence contradicting Pantages and Creedon. P o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n s were found between persistence and three motivational factors: l e v e l of degree aspirat i o n , commit-ment, and peer group influence. However, Tinto (1978) came to conclusions s i m i l a r to Pantages and Creedon i n h i s review. Both Pantages and Creedon (1978) and Lenning et a l . (1980) reported a p o s i t i v e r e l a t i o n s h i p between an expecta-t i o n to drop-out at entry and actual a t t r i t i o n . I t may be concluded that although motivational factors are d i f f i c u l t to i s o l a t e and measure, and have l i m i t e d usefulness as s i n -gle v a r i a b l e predictors, there appears to be a r e l a t i o n s h i p between these factors and a t t r i t i o n which may become impor-tant i n the context of other d i f f i c u l t i e s with study. 22 Personality Factors Pantages and Creedon (1978) suggested, a f t e r review-ing a number of studies which reported nonsignificant f i n d -ings, that personality factors were not important i n per-sistence and a t t r i t i o n . They pointed to evidence that researchers had not distinguished between types of drop-outs, and that negative t r a i t s generally ascribed drop-outs were more those of students who had been required to with-draw than those of students who had withdrawn v o l u n t a r i l y . Pantages and Creedon also pointed out the weakness of the measurement instruments available, and the i n a b i l i t y of t e s t s "to i s o l a t e major psychological c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s that w i l l be useful f o r p r e d i c t i o n of persistence or withdrawal", (p. 74). They concluded that even i f there were not meas-urement problems, that there very well might not be a s i g n i -f i c a n t r e l a t i o n s h i p between personality factors and a t t r i -t i o n . Tinto (1975), also concluded that the important d i s -t i n c t i o n between voluntary withdrawals and academic dismis-s a l s must be made, and that, i n many respects, the personal-i t y c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of voluntary leavers were s i m i l a r to those of p e r s i s t e r s . He did point out that voluntary with-drawals tended to manifest greater o v e r s e n s i t i v i t y and ego-tism than any other group, and speculated that t h i s could a f f e c t successful s o c i a l integration at t h e i r post-secondary i n s t i t u t i o n . 23 Lenning et a l . (1980) disagreed somewhat with Pan-tages and Creedon's conclusions about personality factors and a t t r i t i o n . They stated that the shortcomings of meas-urement instruments d i d not make personality factors any l e s s important i n r e l a t i o n to a t t r i t i o n and persistence. To support t h e i r conclusions, they pointed to Holland's work i n the area of personality type and environmental f i t , and i t s a p p l i c a t i o n to a t t r i t i o n . There i s t r u t h i n both arguments. While Pantages and Creedon were probably correct i n saying that personality c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s are of l i m i t e d value as sing l e v a r i a b l e predictors, Lenning et a l . were equally correct i n conclud-ing that, when personality factors were studied i n r e l a t i o n to i n s t i t u t i o n a l f i t , they became quite important factors i n persistence. A study of drop-out from m i l i t a r y academies (Department of Defense, Commerce, and Transportation, 1976) found p r e c i s e l y t h i s kind of p e r s o n a l i t y / i n s t i t u t i o n a l f i t r e l a t i o n s h i p . For example, those students with a higher need f o r deference and authority were more l i k e l y to p e r s i s t i n m i l i t a r y academies than those students with a high need f o r autonomy. Kennedy and Powell (1976), i n t h e i r study of drop-outs at the Open University i n B r i t a i n , also maintained that personality c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s were important, but only i n context of circumstances. They proposed a two-dimensional model to look at how students with "strong" and "weak" c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s might react to varying circumstances. 24 Summary: Student C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s There i s strong evidence to suggest that i n s t i t u -t i o n s can i d e n t i f y high r i s k students, that there are some r e l i a b l e predictor variables f o r persistence. I t i s equally evident that these are contextual. In other words, a stu-dent who may p e r s i s t i n one i n s t i t u t i o n may not do so i n another. By studying c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of t h e i r p e r s i s t e r s and drop-outs, a p a r t i c u l a r i n s t i t u t i o n may well be able to discover i n s t i t u t i o n a l factors which are helping or hinder-ing t h e i r students. Care must be taken to d i s t i n g u i s h between voluntary withdrawals and forced withdrawals, and between temporary and permanent withdrawals. I n s t i t u t i o n a l C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s Related to A t t r i t i o n As each student has i n d i v i d u a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s which are important i n the a t t r i t i o n / p e r s i s t e n c e equation, so does each i n s t i t u t i o n . Pantages and Creedon (1978) noted that t h i s had been recognized only since about 1960. Before that, the i n s t i t u t i o n a l environment or culture was never considered a v a r i a b l e . They pointed out that i n s t i t u t i o n s not only attempt to a f f e c t change i n a p a r t i c u l a r d i r e c t i o n i n the student, but they also begin by a t t r a c t i n g or r e c r u i t i n g a p a r t i c u l a r kind of student, thereby influencing the a t t r i t i o n rate from the beginning. For example, an open distance education u n i v e r s i t y which a t t r a c t s the part-time adult student who has been away from studies f o r quite a 25 number of years, has rusty study s k i l l s , no post-secondary experience, a f u l l - t i m e job and a family, i s probably s t a r t -ing with a student population which many i n s t i t u t i o n s would c a l l 'high r i s k 1 . There are a number of i n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s which have been found to have some r e l a t i o n s h i p to a t t r i -t i o n . Most recent a t t r i t i o n research favors i n t e r a c t i o n a l models which examine how the student, i n s t i t u t i o n , and environmental factors come together to produce a p a r t i c u l a r r e s u l t . A number of studies c i t e d by Pantages and Creedon (1978) and Lenning et a l . (1980) support the ' i n s t i t u t i o n a l f i t ' theory. These looked at the match between student needs and personality, and at i n s t i t u t i o n a l a b i l i t y to meet the student's needs and to present an image sui t a b l e to the student's personality. I n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s were also an important factor i n Tinto's (1975) theory of student a t t r i t i o n . He began with Durkheim's theory of suicide to develop a theory of drop-out which viewed an i n d i v i d u a l ' s i n t e r a c t i o n s with both academic and s o c i a l systems of an i n s t i t u t i o n as determinants of personal goal commitments as well as commitments to the educational i n s t i t u t i o n . The i n d i v i d u a l ' s experiences i n the system "continually modify hi s or her goal and i n s t i t u t i o n a l commitments i n ways which lead to persistence and/or to varying forms of drop-out". (p. 94). Spady (1971) also proposed a model of drop-out which emphasized i n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . He sup-26 ported e a r l i e r research which spoke of an "environmental press", r e f e r r i n g to the demands which an i n s t i t u t i o n places upon a student. In Spady's view, " f u l l i ntegration into the common l i f e of the college depends on suc c e s s f u l l y meeting the demands of both i t s s o c i a l and academic systems". (p. 39). Tinto's and Spady's theories w i l l be discussed further under the section on "Theoretical Models of A t t r i t i o n " . In a comparison study of distance education i n s t i t u -t i o ns i n Germany and Sweden, Bartels and Willen (1985) pointed out how the p r e v a i l i n g attitudes within an i n s t i t u -t i o n toward such issues as a t t r i t i o n had an impact on how the i n s t i t u t i o n measures and dealt with the problem, and could p a r t i a l l y account f o r "divergent drop-out s t a t i s t i c s " . Some of the i n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s which have been studied are reviewed below. Size/Image/Status Pantages and Creedon (1978) reported that there was some evidence to suggest that smaller i n s t i t u t i o n s had lower o v e r a l l a t t r i t i o n rates. This supports the notion that f r e -quent contact with f a c u l t y and fellow students promotes per-sistence. Pantages and Creedon concluded, as d i d Tinto (1975), that s i z e was related to a t t r i t i o n but " i n a manner yet unclear". (p. 115). Lenning et a l . (1980) reported high retention rates at more prestigious i n s t i t u t i o n s with a high cost of attending, and speculated that t h i s might be 27 due to perceived benefits on the part of the student, and the type of student admitted. They also reported research which showed greater persistence at p r i v a t e l y funded i n s t i -t utions, those with r e l i g i o u s a f f i l i a t i o n s , and those with a c l e a r l y defined mission statement which was communicated to students and other constituents. Housing Pantages and Creedon (1978) and Lenning et a l . (1980) both reported that i t had been shown consistently that students who l i v e d on campus were much more l i k e l y to p e r s i s t i n t h e i r studies. Pantages and Creedon speculated that l i v i n g i n student residences might f a c i l i t a t e s o c i a l i n t e g r a t i o n into campus l i f e and promote feel i n g s of s a t i s -f a c t i o n with the i n s t i t u t i o n . Student-Faculty Interaction According to Pantages and Creedon (1978), "the qual-i t y of the r e l a t i o n s h i p between a student and h i s or her professors i s of c r u c i a l importance i n determining s a t i s f a c -t i o n with the i n s t i t u t i o n " . (p. 79). Lenning et a l . (1980) reported that t h e i r review supported t h i s statement. Tinto (1975) stressed the importance of student i n t e r a c t i o n with f a c u l t y to both s o c i a l and academic integration of the stu-dent and the consequent enhancement of i n s t i t u t i o n a l commit-ment. He c a l l e d f a c u l t y i n t e r a c t i o n an important " s o c i a l reward" f o r the student. Pascarella and Terenzini (1979b) 28 found that when they co n t r o l l e d f o r other variables, student/faculty contact s t i l l had s i g n i f i c a n t c o r r e l a t i o n with students' decisions to withdraw or p e r s i s t . In t h i s study, Pascarella and Terenzini focussed on informal contact outside of the classroom. They found that there were male/female differences i n response to the content of i n f o r -mal discussions, but the e f f e c t f o r both sexes was greatest when discussions focussed on i n t e l l e c t u a l or course related matters. A number of studies of distance education students have pointed to the importance of tutor i n t e r a c t i o n as a facto r i n persistence (Flinck, 1978; Rekkedal, 1981; Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983; Kennedy and Powell, 1976; Sweet, 1982; Phythian and Clements, 1982). Sweet (1982) investigated the personal contacts which students had with t h e i r tutors through the telephone tutoring system at the Open Learning I n s t i t u t e i n B r i t i s h Columbia. He found a s i m i l a r pattern and frequency of s t u d e n t - i n i t i a t e d c a l l s from both com-pl e t e r s and non-completers, and also found that both groups co n s i s t e n t l y gave p o s i t i v e ratings to t h e i r tutors. Sweet concluded "... that tutors have been successful i n creating a climate of supportiveness f o r t h e i r students — both com-pl e t e r s and non-completers". (p. 8). He pointed out that telephone tutors i n distance education i n s t i t u t i o n s are i d e a l l y situated to provide the kind of feedback to students which Pascarella and Terenzini (1979b) found contributed 29 most to persistence, that i s , contacts focusing on i n t e l l e c -t u a l or course re l a t e d materials. Since i n the distance learning s i t u a t i o n , i n s t r u c t i o n i s embodied i n the printed package, tutors can spend more time than t h e i r classroom counterparts on providing personal feedback to each student about h i s or her academic progress. The tutor also plays a c e n t r a l r o l e at Athabasca University. The r e s u l t s of i n d i -v i d u a l learner tracking as part of the REDEAL project showed a r e l a t i o n s h i p between learner motivation and frequent con-t a c t with tutors (Coldeway, MacRury, and Spencer, 1980). There i s no doubt that student/faculty i n t e r a c t i o n i s an important factor i n persistence and a t t r i t i o n . I t i s equally obvious that not a l l i n t e r a c t i o n i s perceived as p o s i t i v e . As Sweet (1982) stated "... effectiveness of these exchanges as i n s t r u c t i o n a l feedback i s enhanced to the extent that i n s t r u c t o r s are responsive and supportive i n t h e i r i n t e r a c t i o n s with students". (p. 8). Rekkedal (1981) also recognized the need fo r the tutor to have a broader r o l e i n providing "counselling" as well as academic support to the student. He proposed to combine these rol e s , and introduce a "personal tutor/counsellor" into the distance education system. Student Support Services Although "... the majority of the recommendations for reducing a t t r i t i o n have been concerned with enlarging 30 the r o l e and scope of counselling services f o r students ..." (Pantages and Creedon, 1978, p. 89), r e l a t i v e l y l i t t l e evaluative research has been done to f i n d out what the e f f e c t s of student services are on persistence and a t t r i -t i o n . Pantages and Creedon (1978) reported that studies which have been conducted on the impact of counselling pro-grams show that there was a s i g n i f i c a n t r e s u l t i n reducing a t t r i t i o n rates f o r those students who had some contact with the services. Lenning et a l . (1980) also found that coun-s e l l i n g services could increase persistence. However, they noted that research also showed that many students did not use counselling and other student services, and that a number of studies had recommended better p u b l i c i t y and com-munication. They also commented on the e f f i c a c y of academic advising, o r i e n t a t i o n programs, and learning assistance pro-grams i n reducing a t t r i t i o n . Not enough research e x i s t s to reach any conclusions about other services such as career planning and placements, foreign student programs, f i n a n c i a l a i d advising, and d i s -abled student services. In distance education, where stu-dent services such as advising, counselling, and student advocacy "are only beginning to be seen as an important part of learners educational experience" (McKinnis-Rankin and Brindley, 1986, p. 60), there has been almost no research on the impact of student support services outside of those offered by tutors and other academics. Both Rekkedal 31 (1981), and Daniel and Marquis (1979) noted that very few distance education i n s t i t u t i o n s had employed professional counsellors or formalized the counselling function. Other I n s t i t u t i o n a l Factors i n Distance Education A number of other factors which contribute to a t t r i -t i o n , and are p a r t i c u l a r to distance education were i d e n t i -f i e d by Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983). These included badly designed course packages (boring, unclear, heavy workload for number of c r e d i t s , l e v e l of d i f f i c u l t y inappropriate), courses where content did not l i v e up to expectations created by the course description, mandatory t e l e v i s i o n and radio broadcasts which caused a c c e s s i b i l i t y d i f f i c u l t i e s , and slow turn-around-time on the marking of assignments. Holmberg (1982) also reported s p e c i f i c a l l y on the c o r r e l a -t i o n between turn-around-time and course completion, and Bartels (1982) commented on the tendency f o r course authors to write using t h e i r colleagues at other u n i v e r s i t i e s rather than students as t h e i r target group. Peer Group Influence The l i t e r a t u r e suggests a strong c o r r e l a t i o n between peer group influence and a t t r i t i o n for the 18-24 year old t r a d i t i o n a l student. Tinto (1975) concluded that, even i f the p e r s o n / i n s t i t u t i o n f i t was not i d e a l , s o c i a l integration leading to persistence could s t i l l be attained through suf-f i c i e n t friendship support from others with l i k e values. 32 Pantages and Creedon (1978) discussed the important r o l e which a peer group played i n developing attitudes associated with persistence. Lenning et a l . (1980) also concluded that peer group influence was strongly r e l a t e d to persistence, p a r t i c u l a r l y i n the development of educational values. For the adult part-time student, peer group i n f l u -ence i s also important (Bean and Metzner, 1985), but the peer group i s often not associated with the educational i n s t i t u t i o n . This i s p a r t i c u l a r l y the case f o r distance education students. For t h i s reason, peer influence w i l l be addressed further i n the following sections on "External Environmental Factors Related to A t t r i t i o n " and "Reasons fo r Drop-Out Provided by Students." External Environmental Factors Related to A t t r i t i o n Environmental factors have not been c i t e d as major vari a b l e s influencing a t t r i t i o n f o r younger students engaged i n f u l l - t i m e study. Lenning et a l . (1980) mentioned only three external variables i n t h e i r review: economic cycles, m i l i t a r y d r a f t , and s o c i a l forces. On the other hand, Bean and Metzner (1985) emphasized the impact of factors i n the external environment on the a t t r i t i o n rates of older part-time students, and developed a conceptual model to r e f l e c t t h i s emphasis. They included such factors as finances, hours of employment, outside encouragement, family responsi-b i l i t i e s , and opportunity to t r a n s f e r to other i n s t i t u t i o n s . 33 Rekkedal (1981) concluded that the most common rea-sons f o r students dropping distance study were not inherent i n the study method, but rather concerned the same d i f f i c u l -t i e s which a l l adult part-time students face, namely compet-ing demands for t h e i r time and energy, and unforeseen changes i n t h e i r circumstances. Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) reported s i m i l a r findings. I t should be noted that both of these studies r e l i e d on reports from drop-outs, and that many researchers believe reasons f o r drop-out provided by students tend to be r a t i o n a l i z a t i o n s or o v e r s i m p l i f i c a t i o n s of a complex process (Phythian and Clements, 1982; Kennedy and Powell, 1976). The following are the factors associated with the environment outside of the educational i n s t i t u t i o n which are mostly commonly associated with a t t r i t i o n . F i n a n c i a l Factors Lenning et a l . (1980) noted that lack of finances i s often given as a reason for dropping out. They pointed out that studies with younger f u l l - t i m e students have shown a p o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n between the extent to which the student perceives a problem (regardless of the actual s i t u a t i o n ) , and a t t r i t i o n . They reported that the amount and type of f i n a n c i a l a i d was also r e l a t e d to persistence, and s u r p r i s -ingly, that part-time employment had a p o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n with persistence. 34 Beal and Metzner (1985) noted i n t h e i r review con-cerning older part-time students that adult students reported concern over finances as often as younger students, and that part-time students mentioned f i n a n c i a l d i f f i c u l t y as frequently as f u l l - t i m e students as a reason f o r with-drawal from studies. They also reported that f u l l - t i m e employment or employment i n excess of 20-25 hours per week was negatively r e l a t e d to persistence and that more older students than younger students f e l l into t h i s employment category. Both Rekkedal (1981) and Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) c i t e d lack of finances and demands of employment as important factors i n drop-out from distance education stu-dies. Outside Encouragement External support and encouragement to study provided by f r i e n d s , family, and employers i s thought to be one of the c r i t i c a l factors i n persistence f o r the adult part-time student since t h e i r reference group tends to be o f f campus rather than on (Bean and Metzner, 1985) However, not enough research e x i s t s as yet to make the kind of d e f i n i t i v e state-ments which are possible about younger students and the p o s i t i v e impact of parental encouragement on t h e i r a t t r i t i o n rates. Distance education students have consistently reported lack of encouragement from family, p a r t i c u l a r l y a 35 spouse, and/or lack of support from employer as reasons f o r dropping studies (Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983; van Wijk, 1983; Bartels, 1982). Encouragement, i n such cases, may mean more than psychological support. Pragmatic forms of support such as a spouse taking over household duties, or an employer reimbursing the cost of course or giving time o f f f o r exami-nations are reported by distance education students as being important to persistence. Change i n Circumstances Change i n circumstances i s r a r e l y , i f ever, men-tioned i n the l i t e r a t u r e regarding drop-out by younger f u l l - t i m e students, but i s consistently mentioned with regard to adult part-time students. The r o l e of student i s often a minor one f o r the adult learner. Study commitment must compete with demands from family, work, friends, and community, and often studies get set aside i f there i s a change i n circumstances which upsets the balance. Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) l i s t i l l n e s s of a r e l a t i v e , change i n marital status, g i v i n g b i r t h , moving house, change i n work hours or workload, and changing or s t a r t i n g employment as some of the factors which can influence persistence i n a negative way. This i s discussed further i n the following section, "Reasons f o r Drop-Out Provided by Students". 36 Reasons f o r Drop-Out Provided by Students Although there i s a great deal of l i t e r a t u r e i n which students describe t h e i r reasons f o r dropping out, there i s some debate about the r e l a t i v e s i g n i f i c a n c e of the information. The most common c r i t i c i s m i s that reasons f o r withdrawal provided by students are probably r a t i o n a l i z a -t i o n s , given that there are negative connotations associated with drop-out (Kennedy and Powell, 1976), and that reasons are usually given i n retrospect, not at the time of the decision to drop. Another c r i t i c i s m i s that unidimensional reasons tend to over-simplify what i s probably a very com-plex i n t e r p l a y of variables as already described i n t h i s chapter. As well, i t has been suggested that students may not t o t a l l y understand t h e i r own motivations (Lenning et a l . , 1980). Notwithstanding these cautions, the reasons for withdrawal provided by students have to be considered an important piece of the a t t r i t i o n puzzle. As Lenning et a l . pointed out, the reasons given by students were part of the development of t h e i r personal drop-out r a t i o n a l e s , and as such, i n s t i t u t i o n s could learn from them. The same ra t i o n a l e may be operating f o r other students who may become drop-outs given a p a r t i c u l a r set of circumstance. For exam-ple, Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) quoted from a student at the Open University, "Work pressures meant that I had le s s time f o r Open Unive r s i t y study — but I guess that I would s t i l l have stuck with the course i f I had found i t more i n t e r e s t -37 ing". (p. 8). The reasons f o r drop-out c i t e d by students have been given with such consistency that broad c l a s s i f i c a -t i o n s have been developed. However, as Pantages and Creedon (1978) noted, these are of varying importance depending on student and i n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s . The most common of the standard categories of reasons which students provide f o r dropping out follow. Academic Reasons/Dissatisfaction with I n s t i t u t i o n The most frequently stated reasons f o r drop-out among young f u l l - t i m e students have to do with academic con-cerns: d i s s a t i s f a c t i o n with matters such as course a v a i l a -b i l i t y , curriculum, scheduling, grades, and degree regula-ti o n s (Lenning et a l . , 1980). In two studies of drop-outs from distance education courses c i t e d by Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983), l e s s than 30% of students referred to study problems caused by the form and content of the courses. In fact, there i s much evidence to show that adult students, rather than holding the i n s t i t u t i o n accountable i n any way, often blame themselves f o r non-completion (Bartels, 1982). This can be p a r t i c u l a r l y true for distance educations students who do not usually know fellow students with whom they can compare experiences. F i n a n c i a l Reasons Fi n a n c i a l reasons f o r dropping out are c i t e d almost as often as academic reasons by young f u l l - t i m e students. 38 There i s some evidence to suggest that perceived f i n a n c i a l d i f f i c u l t y i s more important i n influencing a decision to drop-out than whether r e a l f i n a n c i a l d i f f i c u l t y does e x i s t (Tinto, 1975; Pantages and Creedon, 1978). Woodley and Par-l e t t (1983) noted lack of f i n a n c i a l support as a reason given by drop-outs from distance education courses, but the frequency of such reports was not given. Rekkedal (1981) l i s t e d "economic reasons" as one of the most frequently c i t e d reasons f o r discontinuation of correspondence studies at NKT-skolen i n Norway. Bean and Metzner (1985) noted that older part-time students reported f i n a n c i a l concerns as often as t h e i r younger f u l l - t i m e counterparts i n g i v i n g rea-sons f o r withdrawal from college. Motivational Reasons Pantages and Creedon (1978) categorized a v a r i e t y of student-provided reasons f o r drop-out under 'motivational f a c t o r s ' . These included uncertainty about goals, lack of i n t e r e s t i n studies, and i n a b i l i t y or unwillingness to study. Bean and Metzner (1985) reported that older part-time students often studied f o r pragmatic career-related reasons, and speculated that f o r these students, perceived usefulness of studies was an important factor i n per-sistence. Reasons given f o r drop-out by adult distance edu-cation students reported by Rekkedal (1981) and Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) support t h i s speculation. They c i t e d student reasons such as career goal changes, goal achievement 39 through d i f f e r e n t means, and studies not suited to goal. In a study of students at the FernUniversitat, Bar-t e l s (1982) reported that students c i t e d one of the most important factors i n persistence as having the a b i l i t y to choose a major subject according to i n t e r e s t . Bean and Metzner (1985) c l a s s i f i e d i n t e r e s t or lack of i t under the broad general heading of " s a t i s f a c t i o n " . They defined t h i s category of reasons as the extent to which students enjoyed the r o l e of student, and t h e i r l e v e l of i n t e r e s t or boredom. They reported that r o l e s a t i s f a c t i o n and i n t e r e s t were prob-ably more important factors i n persistence f o r older part-time students than younger f u l l - t i m e students. They noted that i f s a t i s f a c t i o n l e v e l was high, the competing demands for the older students' time might not have had such a nega-t i v e e f f e c t on persistence. Change i n Circumstances This t o p i c has already been covered under "External Environmental Factors Related to A t t r i t i o n " , but deserves some mention here as one of the most consistently c i t e d rea-sons given f o r withdrawal by adult part-time students (Bean and Metzner, 1985). Adult students balance t h e i r studies with many other commitments, and a change i n circumstances such as family i l l n e s s or death, change i n employment condi-t i o n s , household move, or change i n marital status can r e s u l t i n withdrawal given c e r t a i n other conditions. In 40 s t u d i e s o f drop-out from d i s t a n c e e d u c a t i o n courses, change i n c i r c u m s t a n c e s i s u s u a l l y the reason c i t e d most o f t e n by a d u l t s t u d e n t s (Kennedy and Powell, 1976; B a r t e l s , 1982; P y t h i a n and Clements, 1982; Rekkedal, 1981; van Wijk, 1983; Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983). T h e o r e t i c a l Models of A t t r i t i o n By f a r the l a r g e s t p o r t i o n o f drop-out r e s e a r c h con-s i s t s s o l e l y o f d e s c r i p t i o n s o f c a u s a l f a c t o r s a t t a i n e d through e m p i r i c a l r e s e a r c h . However, t h e r e i s now g e n e r a l agreement t h a t what i s needed are c o n c e p t u a l models of a t t r i t i o n which r e c o g n i z e t h e complex i n t e r p l a y o f v a r i a b l e s which i n t e r a c t over a p e r i o d o f time t o produce drop-out. These models l e n d themselves t o m u l t i v a r i a t e and l o n g i t u d i -n a l p a t h a n a l y s e s which are r e q u i r e d i n o r d e r t o i s o l a t e and measure the r e l a t i v e importance o f v a r i o u s f a c t o r s d u r i n g the drop-out p r o c e s s . A few c o n c e p t u a l models have been i n t r o d u c e d i n t h e a t t r i t i o n l i t e r a t u r e . Some o f t h e s e are narrow, t a k i n g o n l y one o r a few f a c t o r s i n t o c o n s i d e r a t i o n . Others a r e much wider, encompassing the i n t e r a c t i o n of s t u -dent, i n s t i t u t i o n a l and environmental f a c t o r s . The l a t t e r t e n d t o be more u s e f u l f o r r e s e a r c h purposes and f o r p l a n -n i n g r e t e n t i o n s t r a t e g i e s . Spady (1971) i s u s u a l l y c r e d i t e d w i t h i n t r o d u c i n g t h e f i r s t model o f a t t r i t i o n . He used Durkheim's t h e o r y of s u i c i d e as an analogy f o r drop-out. H i s model d e s c r i b e d the 41 a s s i m i l a t i o n process of a student into an educational i n s t i -t u t i o n , taking into account student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s and the i n s t i t u t i o n ' s s o c i a l and academic demands. Spady's theory was that i f the student could meet the demands of the i n s t i -t u t i o n and f e l t rewarded i n the process, i t was l i k e l y that successful a s s i m i l a t i o n and persistence would be the r e s u l t . Tinto (1975) developed a theory s i m i l a r to Spady's but went beyond desc r i p t i o n of the process to b u i l d a p r e d i c t i v e model. Tinto viewed the educational i n s t i t u t i o n as a s o c i a l system into which the p e r s i s t i n g student became integrated over time. He described the integration process as a s e r i e s of interactions between the person and the s o c i a l and academic systems of the i n s t i t u t i o n . The person entered with c e r t a i n completion goals and i n s t i t u t i o n a l com-mitments which, over time, were modified by the q u a l i t y and frequency of s o c i a l and academic in t e r a c t i o n s . Depending upon whether the students' goals and commitments were strengthened or weakened by t h i s process, they would drop out or p e r s i s t . A number of studies have tested the Spady and Tinto models. The best known of these are the v a l i d a t i o n studies of Pascarella and Terenzini. They have found support for the Tinto theory i n a v a r i e t y of ways. In a study of fresh-man year students at one college, they were able to show, to some degree, that student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s and academic experiences interacted to produce persistence or drop-out 42 decisions (Terenzini and Pascarella, 1978; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1979a). In another study, they were able to i s o -l a t e student-faculty contact as a v a r i a b l e and showed how t h i s contributed to both s o c i a l and academic integration of the student according to the Tinto model (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1979b). Another of t h e i r studies looked at the construct v a l i d i t y of Tinto's conceptual framework (Teren-z i n i and Pascarella, 1980) and found support for i t . Although they f e l t that Tinto overstated the importance of student c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , they found that the model 1s two major constructs, s o c i a l and academic integration, were s i g -n i f i c a n t i n d i s t i n g u i s h i n g between p e r s i s t e r s and voluntary leavers. Pascarella and Terenzini (1980) also found support for the p r e d i c t i v e v a l i d i t y of s o c i a l and academic integra-t i o n f o r a t t r i t i o n and completion by developing and t e s t i n g a multidimensional measurement instrument to assess the major dimensions of the Tinto model. They concluded that the model was useful f o r t h e o r e t i c a l and research purposes, as well as f o r p r a c t i c a l purposes of planning retention s t r a t e g i e s . Adult part-time students do not f i t the Tinto model because they have much les s i n t e r a c t i o n with f a c u l t y and fellow students than younger part-time students who spend much more time on campus. Hence, s o c i a l integration as defined by Tinto does not contribute i n the same way to t h e i r goals and i n s t i t u t i o n a l commitment. The s i g n i f i c a n t 43 others i n adult students 1 l i v e s are usually the same ones they had before commencing t h e i r studies — family, friends, employer and co-workers. This i s p a r t i c u l a r l y applicable to distance education students who study i n t h e i r own homes and have even l e s s contact with f a c u l t y and other students than do campus-based part-time learners. Bean and Metzner (1985) developed a conceptual model of the a t t r i t i o n process f o r adult part-time students. They proposed that withdrawal decisions were based on four sets of va r i a b l e s : 1) back-ground and defining variables of the student such as age, enrolment status, and gender; 2) academic va r i a b l e s such as study habits and course a v a i l a b i l i t y ; 3) environmental va r i a b l e s such as finances, hours of employment, outside encouragement, and family r e s p o n s i b i l i t y ; 4) psychological outcomes such as perceived u t i l i t y (of studies), s a t i s f a c -t i o n , goal commitment and stress. These sets of variables can contribute d i r e c t l y , i n d i r e c t l y or can i n t e r a c t to con-t r i b u t e to the drop-out decision. Bean and Metzner (1985) proposed that there were "compensatory i n t e r a c t i o n e f f e c t s " (p. 49) i n the model as follows. When academic and environmental variables are both... favorable to persistence, students should remain i n school, and when both are poor, students should leave school. When academic variables are good, but environmental variables are poor, students should leave school, and the p o s i t i v e e f f e c t s of the academic variables on retention w i l l not be seen. 44 When environmental support i s good and academic support i s poor, students would be expected to remain enrolled — the environmental support compensates fo r low scores on the academic va r i a b l e s . (pp. 491-2) Bean and Metzner described a s i m i l a r r e l a t i o n s h i p among academic outcomes, marks and psychological outcomes. They suggested that the older student might p e r s i s t despite low marks i f the psychological outcomes were p o s i t i v e (for exam-ple, seeing the usefulness of t h e i r studies). The compensa-tory e f f e c t s between variables i n the Bean and Metzner model are s i m i l a r to those between s o c i a l and academic integration i d e n t i f i e d by Tinto (1975) i n h i s model of a t t r i t i o n . What i s very c l e a r i s that the r e l a t i v e importance of variables i n an i n t e r a c t i o n a l model of a t t r i t i o n i s e n t i r e l y dependent on the p a r t i c u l a r student population and what they perceive and experience as being important to t h e i r persistence. For example, using the Bean and Metzner model, i f adult distance learners see t h e i r studies as being useful, have family sup-port and academic c a p a b i l i t y , they w i l l probably p e r s i s t despite i s o l a t i o n from the i n s t i t u t i o n . On the other hand, they probably w i l l not p e r s i s t i f , i n addition to being i s o -lated, any of the f i r s t three conditions i s not met. Hence, the Bean and Metzner model may prove to be a useful s t a r t i n g point i n developing a model of a t t r i t i o n and retention s t r a -tegies f o r adult distance learners. What i s needed i s more information about what these p a r t i c u l a r students see as con-t r i b u t i n g to t h e i r persistence or withdrawal. 45 Other models o f a t t r i t i o n d e s c r i b e d by Lenning e t a l . (1980) are d i s c u s s e d b r i e f l y here. These a r e not w i d e l y r e c o g n i z e d i n the l i t e r a t u r e and appear not t o have been t e s t e d t o t h e e x t e n t o f the Spady and T i n t o models. In 1973, F l a n n e r y d e s c r i b e d a t h e o r y of a t t r i t i o n which c o n s i d e r e d student e x p e c t a t i o n s and attainment. In t h i s model, students were seen t o e n t e r post-secondary study w i t h c e r t a i n e x p e c t a t i o n s and, depending upon m i t i g a t i n g c i r c u m s t a n c e s from t h r e e sources — the student, s o c i e t y and t h e i n s t i t u t i o n — t h e i r e x p e c t a t i o n s might o r might not be met. I f t h e i r e x p e c t a t i o n s were met, p e r s i s t e n c e was l i k e l y . A l f r e d (1974) a p p l i e d symbolic i n t e r a c t i o n t h e o r y t o a t t r i t i o n i n d e v e l o p i n g a complex model i n which he i d e n -t i f i e d 52 primary f a c t o r s i n v o l v e d i n withdrawal d e c i s i o n s . As w e l l as d e s c r i b i n g models o f a t t r i t i o n , Lenning e t a l . (1980) suggested two o t h e r w e l l v a l i d a t e d p s y c h o l o g i -c a l t h e o r i e s o f behaviour which might be a p p l i e d t o a t t r i -t i o n . They proposed t h a t H o l l a n d ' s (1966,1973) t h e o r y o f v o c a t i o n a l c h o i c e , which d e s c r i b e d s i x b a s i c p e r s o n a l i t y and environmental types and h i s measurement instrument, c o u l d be used t o t e s t a p e r s o n / i n s t i t u t i o n a l f i t t h e o r y o f p e r -s i s t e n c e . F i n a l l y , Lenning e t a l . d i s c u s s e d the a p p l i c a b i l -i t y o f F e s t i n g e r ' s (1962) t h e o r y o f c o g n i t i v e dissonance t o a person-environment model o f a t t r i t i o n . T h i s t h e o r y d e a l t w i t h the i n d i v i d u a l ' s p e r c e p t i o n s and knowledge o f s e l f , the s o c i a l environment and h i s o r her e x p e r i e n c e s . I f t h e r e was 46 a perceived dissonance among the elements, the i n d i v i d u a l would seek to lessen i t . In applying the theory to a t t r i -t i o n , Lenning et a l . suggested that students experiencing dissonance between t h e i r perceived needs and the i n s t i t u t i o n ' s a b i l i t y to meet them would be l i k e l y to remedy the s i t u a t i o n by dropping out. Each s i t u a t i o n would d i f f e r depending upon the nature of the i n d i v i d u a l and the i n s t i t u -t i o n . There have been some attempts by researchers to develop a theory of a t t r i t i o n and a retention strategy based on an i s o l a t e d v a r i a b l e . Two such models which apply s p e c i f i c a l l y to distance education are reported here. Thompson (1984) proposed an a t t r i t i o n theory of cognitive s t y l e / i n s t i t u t i o n a l f i t . S p e c i f i c a l l y , he suggested that field-dependent learners, because of t h e i r greater need f o r structure and support, were not well suited to the indepen-dent study required of distance learners. Thompson recom-mended that field-dependent distance learners might benefit from increased opportunity f o r contact with academic s t a f f and other students. Field-independent learners, because of t h e i r tendency to be more autonomous, should be i d e a l l y s uited to distance education. Thompson concluded that drop-out should be investigated using models which r e f l e c t e d "aptitude-treatment in t e r a c t i o n s " proposed by Cronbach and Snow (Thompson, 1984, p. 291). 47 D i S i l v e s t r o and Markowitz (1982) used the expectancy theory of motivation to propose the use of behavioral con-t r a c t s to improve completion rates i n correspondence study. Their idea was that, i f the goal and path to the goal were c l e a r to the student, then successful completion would be the l i k e l y outcome. They concluded from the t e s t study of t h e i r theory that the contract students were much more l i k e l y to have a prompt s t a r t but were no more l i k e l y to complete than t h e i r counterparts with no contracts. This r e s u l t speaks to the inadequacy of s i n g l e - f a c t o r theories and strategies i n dealing with a complex issue such as a t t r i t i o n . Retention Strategies A number of research studies and reviews of the l i t e r a t u r e have proposed retention strategies. The follow-ing i s a summary of these based on authors reviewed f o r t h i s chapter. Recruitment/Information Recruitment programs should provide accurate i n f o r -mation about courses, programs and i n s t i t u t i o n s to help prospective students to make sound decisions and choices. Zahn (c i t e d by Rekkedal, 1981) pointed out the dangers i n over advertising or advertising i n a misleading way, " a t t r a c t i n g thereby students who are unable to p r o f i t from 48 the i n s t r u c t i o n or students who are seeking knowledge the course i s not intended to provide", (p. 16). Admissions P o l i c i e s Although some researchers have recommended r a i s i n g admissions standards as a method of lowering a t t r i t i o n , most authors agreed that t h i s was not an acceptable s o l u t i o n . Rekkedal (1981) pointed out quite accurately that, i n the long run, t h i s only lessens a c c e s s i b i l i t y and widens the e x i s t i n g educational gaps within society. Orientation Programs More comprehensive, thorough o r i e n t a t i o n programs have been recommended f a i r l y c onsistently i n the l i t e r a t u r e (Pantages and Creedon, 1978; Lenning et a l . , 1980). The stated purpose of these i s to help integrate students into the i n s t i t u t i o n a l environment. Assessment and Counselling Recommendations fo r assessment and counselling ser-v i c e s include pre-enrolment counselling and academic advis-ing, i d e n t i f y i n g 'high r i s k ' students, career counselling, study s k i l l s assistance, remediation services, and e x i t interviews. (Rounds, 1984; Pantages and Creedon, 1978; Len-ning et a l . , 1980; Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983). 49 Student/Faculty Interactions Better t r a i n i n g programs f o r fa c u l t y and tutors which incorporate counselling s k i l l s were suggested by a number of authors (Rounds, 1984; Rekkedal, 1981; Sweet, 1982). Another frequently made recommendation was to increase the opportunity f o r faculty/student i n t e r a c t i o n outside of the classroom (Lenning et a l . , 1980). Summary: Retention Strategies The most frequently made suggestions with regard to retention have to do with support services. Unfortunately, very l i t t l e i n the way of evaluative research i s av a i l a b l e to a t t e s t to the effectiveness of these programs i n lowering a t t r i t i o n . What may be concluded i s that d i f f e r e n t models of a t t r i t i o n are required f o r d i f f e r e n t types of student bodies and i n s t i t u t i o n s , and, hence, no one set of retention s t r a t e g i e s w i l l f i t a l l s i t u a t i o n s . Research Method The research method used for t h i s study was chosen because i t i s a technique designed to i l l i c i t peoples' experiences which s i g n i f i c a n t l y contribute to a s p e c i f i e d outcome. The C r i t i c a l Incident Technique (Flanagan, 1954) was o r i g i n a l l y developed to i d e n t i f y c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of p i l o t performance through d i r e c t observation of behaviour. During the 1950's, i t was employed f o r a number of personnel 50 studies to do with performance evaluation, but was not used frequently f o r a number of years a f t e r that era. Recently, i t s effectiveness as a research method i n counselling has been discovered, and a number of studies have employed i t (Woolsey, 1986). As a q u a l i t a t i v e method of inquiry, the c r i t i c a l incident technique values the i n d i v i d u a l ' s d e s c r i p t i o n of h i s or her subjective r e a l i t y . This does not render the data any l e s s r e l i a b l e or v a l i d than that c o l l e c t e d through quantitative methods. Andersson and Nilsson (1964), i n an extensive review, concluded that the c r i t i c a l incident tech-nique was both r e l i a b l e and v a l i d as a method of c o l l e c t i n g information. They stated: "The material c o l l e c t e d seems to represent very well the behaviour units that the method may be expected to provide." (p. 402). The strong c r i t i c i s m s of a t t r i t i o n research are that i t i s lacking i n t h e o r e t i c a l conceptual models and that i t i s l a r g e l y d e s c r i p t i v e or c o r r e l a t i o n a l with the emphasis on i d e n t i f y i n g r e l a t i o n s h i p s between student and i n s t i t u t i o n a l c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s and drop-out (Tinto, 1975; Lenning et a l . , 1980; Bean and Metzner, 1985). At the same time, a number of researchers (Terenzini and Pascarella, 1980; Rounds, 1984; Bartels, 198_; Kennedy and Powell, 1976) have stated the greater importance of student experiences i n r e l a t i o n to t h e i r background c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s , and the need to explore these experiences further i n defining s i g n i f i c a n t factors i n 51 developing models of a t t r i t i o n f o r distance education. Woolsey (1986) discussed the usefulness of the c r i t -i c a l incident technique to foundational and exploratory work, noting that " C r i t i c a l incident studies are p a r t i c u -l a r l y useful because they generate both exploratory informa-t i o n and theory or model b u i l d i n g . " (p. 252). By using an exploratory technique which f a c i l i t a t e s gathering d i r e c t observations from students, the incidents which are c r i t i c a l to persistence of a p a r t i c u l a r student population can be i d e n t i f i e d . The factors which emerge can then be used to develop a model of a t t r i t i o n and retention strategies f o r that population which can be tested and evaluated. 52 CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY Subject Selection Forty students enrolled i n t h e i r f i r s t course at Athabasca Uni v e r s i t y were chosen at random from eight courses, ( f i v e students from each course). The eight courses were selected from both l i b e r a l and applied studies a f t e r discussions with academic s t a f f at the i n s t i t u t i o n . The courses selected provide a good representation from a v a r i e t y of d i s c i p l i n e s , and included both three-credit (half year) and s i x - c r e d i t ( f u l l year) courses. I t would have been desirable to include more senior l e v e l courses but stu-dent numbers were not large enough i n a given month to draw a sample (Athabasca University has continuous enrolment. Students with the same s t a r t date were chosen from each course). The courses chosen were as follows: French 103: Ensemble: French for Beginners (6 credits) English 210: L i t e r a r y Forms and Techniques (6 credits) Psychology 206: Introductory Psychology (6 credits) Geology 231: Understanding the Earth (3 credits) Computing Science 203: Introductory BASIC Programming (3 credits) Communications 229: Introductory Interpersonal Communica-tio n s (3 credits) Accounting 253: Introductory F i n a n c i a l Accounting (3 credits) Legal Relations 369: Commercial Law (3 credits) 53 Computer printouts of the student I.D. numbers for a l l students with the same s t a r t date i n four of these courses were pul l e d from the student record system, and then f i v e I.D. numbers were drawn at random from a l l of the I.D. numbers i n each course. This process was c a r r i e d out soon a f t e r the chosen s t a r t date without regard f o r the students' progress i n the course, t h e i r demographics, or any other fa c t o r s . Approximately a month l a t e r , the same process was followed f o r the remaining four courses. The time lapse between the selections was planned i n order to f a c i l i t a t e staggering the interviews over a two month period. Only one student of the 40 subsequently declined to be interviewed. The o r i g i n a l process, using the remaining I.D. numbers f o r that course was employed to s e l e c t an alternate. Description of Subj ects Following the interviews, the demographics of the 40 students were obtained from the student record system. Although the students had been chosen through simple random se l e c t i o n , and the sample was r e l a t i v e l y small, t h e i r demo-graphics matched those of the t o t a l student population of the Uni v e r s i t y i n a number of important ways (Table I ) . Sixty per cent (24) of the sample were female, and the aver-age age of the students at the time of the interviews was 33.5 years. They came from a v a r i e t y of educational back-grounds. Six had at l e a s t one u n i v e r s i t y degree; ten had taken some u n i v e r s i t y courses; seven had secondary school 54 diplomas; and f i v e had completed some secondary school. Five students d i d not report t h e i r educational background. The students were also from a v a r i e t y of geographic l o c a -t i o n s , mostly i n Alberta and B r i t i s h Columbia, more from urban settings than r u r a l . Their motivations f o r studying with AU varie d from s p e c i f i c career reasons to gaining a p a r t i c u l a r knowledge or s k i l l , earning a degree, or general i n t e r e s t . F i f t e e n of the 40 students successfully completed t h e i r courses. This constitutes a completion rate of 37.5% i f those who formally withdrew within 3 0 days are included i n the c a l c u l a t i o n , and a completion rate of 43% i f they are not included. Of the 25 students who d i d not complete t h e i r courses, only 5 chose to withdraw formally within the f i r s t 30 days. The remainder were "withdrawn without c r e d i t " by the u n i v e r s i t y when t h e i r contract time expired. Table 1 shows how these s t a t i s t i c s compare to the t o t a l student population at Athabasca University. TABLE I Comparison o f C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s o f Sample Subj e c t s w i t h those of T o t a l Student P o p u l a t i o n C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s % o f Sample % of (1984-85) P o p u l a t i o n (1984-85**) Geographic l o c a t i o n : urban 63 63 r u r a l 37 37 A l b e r t a 70 75 B.C. 18 12 o t h e r p r o v i n c e s and t e r r i t o r i e s 12 13 Sex: male 40 39 female 60 61 E d u c a t i o n Background: some h i g h s c h o o l 12.5 10 h i g h s c h o o l graduate 17.5 2 0 some u n i v e r s i t y 27.5 25 u n i v e r s i t y degree 15 14 c o l l e g e / n u r s i n g diploma 10 10 v o c a t i o n a l / t e c h n i c a l s c h o o l 5 10 ot h e r 12.5 11 Age: l e s s than 25 10 24 25-34 55 44 35-44 20 24 45-54 5 6 g r e a t e r than 55 7.5 2 not known 2.5 P e r s i s t e n c e i n Course: Completer (1) 43* 44** Withdrawn - no c r e d i t (2) 57* 56** (1) I n c l u d e s f a i l u r e s as w e l l as s u c c e s s f u l completions. (2) E i t h e r d i d not s t a r t working on the course o r stopped working b e f o r e completion but d i d not f o r m a l l y withdraw. * These f i g u r e s a re based on c a l c u l a t i o n s which do not i n c l u d e the f i v e s t u d e n t s who chose t o withdraw f o r m a l l y w i t h i n 30 days. T h i s i s the way i n which completion r a t e s a re now c a l c u l a t e d a t AU. ** Completion r a t e s a re f o r 1983-84, the l a t e s t date f o r which t h e r e are p o p u l a t i o n d a t a . 56 I n i t i a l Contact Process Letters of i n i t i a l contact (see Appendix I) were mailed to the subjects, and follow up telephone c a l l s were made to personally request p a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the study, answer questions, and set interview times. Subjects were informed during the i n i t i a l telephone c a l l that the i n t e r -views would take approximately 30 minutes, would be con-ducted by telephone, and that they would be audiotaped. At the same time, rule s of c o n f i d e n t i a l i t y , and the non-p r e j u d i c i a l nature of p a r t i c i p a t i o n or non-participation was stressed. I f the subject agreed to be interviewed, (only one d i d not and was replaced with another student chosen at random from the same course), an appointment f o r the i n t e r -view was set, and a consent form (see Appendix II) was mailed. The consent form once again stressed that the interview was s t r i c t l y c o n f i d e n t i a l , and had no bearing on course r e s u l t s . The Interview The C r i t i c a l Incident Technique was selected as the best interview method fo r s o l i c i t i n g concrete incidents i n which something hindered or f a c i l i t a t e d the students' per-sistence i n t h e i r courses. Students were interviewed 8 to 10 weeks a f t e r t h e i r o f f i c i a l s t a r t dates. This was some-what e a r l i e r than o r i g i n a l l y proposed for the study, and was on the advice of academics and tutors at Athabasca Univer-57 s i t y . The idea was to ensure that students had s u f f i c i e n t time to have some experience with t h e i r courses, but not so much time that they had already 'mentally', i f not formally, dropped out. Care was taken i n t h i s regard to meet the c r i -t e r i a of " q u a l i f i e d observer" which Flanagan, (1954, p. 334-35), points out i s very important i n obtaining accurate data using the C r i t i c a l Incident interview. At the begin-ning of each interview, a second check was made on the com-petence of the student to evaluate t h e i r experience by ask-ing them to rate t h e i r progress i n the course against the suggested schedule provided with the course materials. In a l l cases, students were able to do t h i s , as evidenced by such comments as: " d r a s t i c a l l y behind", "on schedule and working hard", "behind by about two assignments", "a l i t t l e b i t ahead", "have made several attempts to s t a r t but am get-t i n g nowhere", and "behind schedule and have not touched the course f o r a week". The telephone was chosen as the medium of communica-t i o n f o r the interview because Athabasca students l i v e i n a l l parts of Canada, and the telephone i s the usual mode of communication between them and the i n s t i t u t i o n . Using the telephone also precluded having to choose students who were geographically close to the researcher. The interviews were a l l conducted by the author, and were c a r r i e d out i n a pre-determined format. The interview began with an introduction to the interviewer, a review of 5 8 the purpose of the study, and assurances about the confiden-t i a l i t y of any information c o l l e c t e d or accessed as a r e s u l t of the study. The standard preamble follows: This i s Jane Brindley from Student Ser-vice s at Athabasca University. We arranged t h i s time f o r an interview. Is t h i s s t i l l a l r i g h t with you? Just i n case you have forgotten, I am t r y i n g to f i n d out more about what helps and hinders a student i n completing a d i s -tance education course. I hope that t h i s information w i l l a s s i s t i n planning and developing better support services. You were chosen to be interviewed because t h i s i s your f i r s t course with Athabasca, and i t i s now weeks since your s t a r t date. No consideration has been given to your progress i n the course. Your responses to my questions w i l l be very h e l p f u l no matter where you are with the course r i g h t now — even i f you have not started working on i t . A l l informa-t i o n which you provide w i l l be kept anonymously. Your responses w i l l be com-p i l e d with those of other students being interviewed, and the information w i l l be analyzed as a whole. No references w i l l be made to your name or that of any other student. Do you have any questions or comments before we begin? Once the student was ready, the interview was under-taken i n the predetermined format, using f a i r l y structured, but open ended questions as follows: From t a l k i n g to other students, I f i n d everyone has c e r t a i n s a t i s f a c t i o n s and d i s s a t i s f a c t i o n s i n taking a distance education course. I would l i k e to hear about your personal experience. In par-t i c u l a r , I am interested i n f i n d i n g out what has helped you to or kept you back from working on your Athabasca course. I would l i k e you to t r y to remember s p e c i f i c times when something happened which perhaps made a difference — a 59 thought, a f e e l i n g , an action, an obser-vation, whatever — which helped you or blocked you from s t a r t i n g or staying with your course. Think about whether these incidents helped you or hindered you so much that i t changed your behaviour or thinking. As you think of these times, perhaps you could j o t down a key word fo r each one. When you are ready, we w i l l s t a r t with the most recent one Okay, now before we s t a r t , please t e l l me i n your own words what you think I have asked you to do so that we can be sure that we understand each other Now, l e t ' s s t a r t with the most recent thing that you can remember. Don't worry about how you answer or whether you think you are repeating yourself. Anything w i l l be h e l p f u l . I ' l l s t a r t by asking you some questions: Did t h i s incident change your behaviour or thinking about the course?.... Describe what happened?.... What lead up to t h i s ? . . . . When did i t happen?.... Why was t h i s such a help (or setback)?.... As the subject f i n i s h e d describing each incident, the interviewer used paraphrasing to ensure accuracy, and to e l i c i t any other d e t a i l s . The interview continued u n t i l no further incidents were forthcoming. Recording and Sorting of Data A l l of the interviews were audiotaped. As well, each of the incidents was recorded i n writing by the i n t e r -viewer while the interview proceeded. Each was then checked with the tapes f o r accuracy and completeness. Each of the incidents was then separately transcribed onto a coloured index card with the I.D. number of the student who had reported i t . Two colours were used, one for f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents, and one for hindering. The incident cards were 60 then sorted many times by the interviewer into groups with common meaning u n t i l they consistently formed basic categories. Following the interviewer's i n i t i a l formation of categories, the cards were coded, mixed together, and then sorted by two independent raters to check the r e l i a b i l -i t y of the categories. 61 CHAPTER IV RESULTS The 40 students i n the study reported a t o t a l of 2 65 incidents, 113 f a c i l i t a t i n g and 152 hindering incidents. The average number of incidents reported per student was 6.6. One student reported that nothing had hindered h i s progress while two students could i d e n t i f y no f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents. The fewest incidents that any one student reported was 2, while the most was 12. The most common number of incidents reported was 6. Of the 40 students, 15 (37.5%) completed t h e i r courses, and 25 (62.5%) did not. The 15 completers reported 108 (40.75%) of the t o t a l 265 incidents, 50 (46%) f a c i l i t a t -ing and 58 (54%) hindering. The non-completers reported 157 (59.2%) of the t o t a l 265 incidents, 63 (40%) f a c i l i t a t i n g and 94 (60%) hindering. Although the t o t a l number of incidents reported by each of the two groups, (completers and non-completers) was consistent with t h e i r s i z e ( i e . com-pl e t e r s made up 37.5% of the group and reported 40.75% of the i n c i d e n t s . ) , there were noticeable differences within p a r t i c u l a r categories of incidents. (see section on com-parison of completers and non-completers, and Tables III and IV.) 62 Description of Basic Categories The 265 incidents were sorted into groups of common meaning u n t i l 13 basic categories emerged. The categories are bipolar, having the po t e n t i a l to include both hindering and f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents. Only one category, #9 - Marks Received, had only f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents reported. With the exception of #9, examples of f a c i l i t a t i n g (F) and hindering (H) incidents are given for each category. (1) Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t i o n This category excludes the student's i n s t r u c -t i o n a l contact ( i e : with the tutor) but includes a l l other contact by telephone, mail/print, or in-person. F. When she received mail from AU, she f e l t cared about, "not j u s t a cog i n a wheel". I t inspired her to work. F. Athabasca University Magazine gave him a boost; he suddenly did not f e e l so i s o l a t e d . H. She requested the course i n December, and did not receive i t u n t i l February. Her motivation was l e s s . H. When she enrolled, she had heard that there would be workshops, but no one contacted her to t e l l her where or when. She thought that t h i s was poor organization. 63 (2) Personalized Instr u c t i o n a l Support Personalized i n s t r u c t i o n a l support i s given i n addition to the learning package and i s usually pro-vided by the tutor and/or course coordinator by t e l e -phone. I t includes i n s t r u c t i o n on course content including feedback on assignments, guidance i n approach to learning, and encouragement. F. She talked to her tutor who was very supportive. He referred to her extensive business experience as evidence of her c a p a b i l i t y . H. When she c a l l e d her tutor f o r the f i r s t time, he did not seem recep-t i v e or enthusiastic. She thought, "I'm on my own". H. He discovered that i t was d i f f i c u l t to get i n touch with the tutor. The telephone was always busy. (3) Discovery about the Course/Support Materials/Approach This category includes incidents where students discovered something about the course, t h e i r approach to i t , or support materials which made a difference to them. F. She discovered that the workbooks were very h e l p f u l i n giving sug-gested approach. F. He discovered he could get supple-mentary materials (tapes) from the l i b r a r y . He f e l t encouraged and 64 began to work more quickly. H. When he saw the topics f o r the research paper, he f e l t he could not do i t because of h i s own lack of background and resources i n the community. H. She discovered she would need a tape recorder and she d i d not have one. (4) Pre-Course Preparation/Prior Expectations The incidents i n t h i s category e i t h e r happened before the student started the course or are r e l a t e d to expectations held before the course began. F. She saw a counsellor before she started her f i r s t course. He helped her to focus her goals i n studying and gave her encouragement which made her f e e l anxious to s t a r t . F. She attended a study s k i l l s workshop before she started her course. I t made her aware of many p i t f a l l s and helped her to prepare. H. When she f i r s t opened the package, she f e l t b a f f l e d and overwhelmed by the amount. She r e a l i z e d i t was serious. I t had been so easy to r e g i s t e r — " l i k e ordering some-thing from Sears". H. Even before she received her course package, she had doubts about her c a p a b i l i t y . She thought the course would be d i f f i c u l t and she knew she was weak i n Math. 65 (5) Received Encouragement/Support from Source Outside of  the Uni v e r s i t y Encouragement, support, and i n s t r u c t i o n were given by family, friends, and colleagues outside of the University. F. Her husband helped her by asking s p e c i f i c content questions. Teach-ing him helped her to learn. F. A colleague at work helped him with the programming exercise. H. Her husband questioned the value of her being i n the course, e s p e c i a l l y i n the evening when "time was taken from him". H. She f e l t discouraged when a f r i e n d who was also doing a home study course f i n i s h e d because they were going to work together. (6) Deadlines and Schedules This category includes incidents r e s u l t i n g from deadlines and schedules imposed by students, t h e i r c i r -cumstances, or the i n s t i t u t i o n . She ordered a l l three exams at once so that she would have very s t r i c t deadlines. Just before the seminar, he spent l o t s of time on the course t r y i n g to prepare f o r i t . She f e l t pressured by the time l i m i t (one month) for withdrawal. 66 She f e l t i t was not enough time to make a decision. H. He was very busy at work and decided to set the course aside f o r a month. There were immediate deadlines at work but none i n h i s course. (7) Personal Rea l i z a t i o n These are incidents when students r e a l i z e d something about themselves such as t h e i r a b i l i t y , t h e i r progress i n the course, t h e i r approach to learning, and feeli n g s about the course. F. A f t e r she completed the f i r s t pro-gramming exercise, she had a f e e l -ing of accomplishment. She f e l t smarter — l i k e she had an edge. F. When he compared h i s work on the course to past experiences where he had been successful, he f e l t a l i t -t l e ashamed and decided that he could do i t . H. She f e l t she had neglected the course f o r too long and that there was no hope. H. The novelty wore o f f a f t e r s i x to eight weeks. His enthusiasm dropped and i t f e l t l i k e a pain to s i t down and work on the course. (8) Thoughts about Longer Term Goals These are incidents where students thought about how the course related to t h e i r longer term 67 goals, usually career and educational. F. She f e l t an i n t e r n a l pressure. Time was passing and she d i d not yet have a degree. She wanted t h i s very badly. F. When he thought about h i s long term career goal, he f e l t l i k e continu-ing. H. He took some vocational t e s t i n g which showed that he might have chosen the wrong f i e l d . He f e l t very discouraged about h i s course. H. He was taking the course as a f i r s t step toward a career change. When he found out how much education was required to reach h i s goal, he f e l t he could never do i t . (9) Marks Received These incidents are ones where the marks received i n the course had a d i r e c t e f f e c t on the way the student f e l t about doing the course. Although no students i n t h i s group reported hindering incidents, students i n circumstances other than t h i s study have reported negative or hindering e f f e c t s from marks received. F. She received a very high mark on the f i r s t exam and f e l t a c e r t a i n amount of s a t i s f a c t i o n . F. He got the r e s u l t s from half-way exams and knew he was on the r i g h t track. I t made a r e a l difference. 68 (10) Change i n Time A v a i l a b l e / C i r c u m s t a n c e s T h i s i s the l a r g e s t c a t e g o r y and i n c l u d e s a l l those i n c i d e n t s where students r e p o r t t h a t something i n t h e i r l i f e changed which made a d i f f e r e n c e t o the amount o f time spent on t h e i r course. I t i n c l u d e s such t h i n g s as i l l n e s s , v a c a t i o n , work changes, death o f a r e l a t i v e , season changes, and move o f r e s i d e n c e . F. A f t e r she f i n i s h e d work f o r the summer, she had more time, and has spent more time on her course. F. She f i n i s h e d a l o t of exams and papers i n her campus co u r s e s . She f e l t r e l i e v e d and ready t o work on her AU course. H. There was a death i n the f a m i l y . I t kept her away from her course f o r two weeks. H. Things were not going w e l l a t work. She f e l t she had t o get away. She went t o Vancouver f o r two weeks and d i d not work on the course. (11) Course Content T h i s c a t e g o r y i n c l u d e s those i n c i d e n t s which s t u d e n t s d i r e c t l y a t t r i b u t e d t o the s u b j e c t matter o f th e c o u r s e as opposed t o the d e s i g n . F. When he f i r s t opened t h e package, h i s i n i t i a l i m p r e s s i o n was t h a t the course would be q u i t e i n t e r e s t i n g . He s t a r t e d r e a d i n g the textbook r i g h t away. 69 F. Once she sat down and worked on the course, she found i t i n t e r e s t i n g and enjoyable. H. She was reading a novel which she didn't l i k e . She f e l t d i s i n -terested. I t was d i f f i c u l t to make her s e l f work — to delve deeply enough. H. When she f i r s t looked at the course, she thought she "wasn't getting i t because i t seemed too simple". (12) Course Design This category has to do with the design of the learning package: the inst r u c t i o n s given, support materials, examinations, and general layout. F. He l i k e d the course design. I t t o l d him what to look f o r and gave him a sense of being on the r i g h t track. F. Having a student manual helped her. I t got her back on the track with a suggested schedule when she got behind. H. Her f i r s t exam was d i s t r e s s i n g because the structure was d i f f e r e n t than what she had expected from doing previous quizzes. H. The student manual referred to a d i f f e r e n t kind of computer than h i s . Figuring out the correspond-ing information for a home computer was discouraging and f r u s t r a t i n g . 70 (13) P r a c t i c a l Application of Learning This category includes incidents where students reported being able to r e l a t e the course to t h e i r experience. I t f a c i l i t a t e d them i n t h e i r course i f they saw t h i s as being h e l p f u l , and hindered them i f they saw i t as being redundant. F. When he started, he f e l t the course was enjoyable because he was fami-l i a r with the content and could see p r a c t i c a l applications. F. She spoke to her brother about her course. He t o l d her he thought the content was very relevant to current p r a c t i s e . H. When she f i r s t opened the package, she could see i t was redundant to past education and experience. She f e l t as though she did not want to bother getting started. R e l i a b i l i t y of the Basic Categories Two d i f f e r e n t raters, one male and one female, were used to determine the r e l i a b i l i t y of the basic categories. The male i s an administrator at Athabasca University, and i s f a m i l i a r with distance education methods, and the terms used for the categories. He has a doctoral degree i n Comparative Education and i s 44 years of age. The female r a t e r i s employed f u l l - t i m e i n an unrelated f i e l d , has some post-secondary education, and i s 59 years of age. Both are residents of Edmonton. 71 A sample of 52 incidents, 4 from each category, were selected f o r the raters to sort. They achieved r e l i a b i l i t y scores of 94% ( f i r s t rater) and 92% (second r a t e r ) . Incidents were miscategorized due, eithe r to lack of under-standing of the category description, not reading the incidents completely, or a difference of opinion. The i n t e r r a t e r r e l i a b i l i t y of over 90% on both t r i a l s represents strong r e l i a b i l i t y of the basic categories. Basic Categories P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rate The p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate indicates the strength of the categories by showing the extent to which d i f f e r e n t p a r t i c i -pants i n the study reported the same kind of incidents as hindering of f a c i l i t a t i n g t h e i r goals. Table II shows the p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate by percentage of students reporting incidents i n each category. As well, the actual number of incidents which the percentages represent are shown. 72 TABLE II Basic Categories P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rate CATEGORY %of Students # of Incidents Reporting In- F a c i l i - Hinder-cidents i n t a t i n g ing each category 1. Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t e 2. Personalized Inst r u c t i o n a l Support 3. Discovery about the Course 4. Pre-Course Preparation/Prior Expectations 5. Encouragement/Support from Outside the University 6. Deadlines and Schedules 7. Personal R e a l i z a t i o n 8. Thoughts about Longer Term Goals 9. Marks Received 10. Change i n Time Available /Circumstances 11. Course Content 12. Course Design 13. P r a c t i c a l A pplication of Learning 20% 6 4 50% 15 12 43% 9 18 35% 5 13 43% 20 2 25% 10 3 63% 16 21 10% 2 3 20% 9 0 80% 4 52 23% 7 5 38% 5 15 20% 5 4 Comparison of Completers and Non-Completers Table I I I shows a comparison of p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates between completers and non-completers f o r each category. For both groups, there i s at l e a s t one subject i n each 73 category. There are noticeable differences between the groups' p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates i n seven of the t h i r t e e n categories. The p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates are p a r t l y a r e f l e c t i o n of the r e l a t i v e importance attached to each category and for these reasons, i t i s important to compare p e r s i s t e r s and non-completers on t h i s dimension. Table IV compares completers and non-completers on another dimension. I t shows the r a t i o of f a c i l i t a t i n g to hindering incidents i n each category f o r the two groups. There are noticeable differences i n only four categories. In general, i t can be said that the kind of incidents which held the non-completer back, also hindered the completer. Apparently, the completers responded d i f f e r e n t l y than the non-completers to these incidents. Of p a r t i c u l a r i n t e r e s t i s Category 10 - Change i n Time Available or Circumstances. Throughout distance education l i t e r a t u r e , t h i s i s c i t e d as the most often provided reason f o r drop-out (Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983). This study shows that p e r s i s t e r s experience j u s t as many instances of t h i s type of hindrance. 74 TABLE I I I Comparison o f P a r t i c i p a t i o n Rates i n C a t e g o r i e s  Between Completers and Non-Completers Category Completers (15=38%) Non-Completers (25=62%) % o f completers % o f non-completers (out o f 15) (out o f 25) r e p o r t i n g i n c i d e n t s r e p o r t i n g i n c i d e n t s *1. Student I n t e r a c t i o n w i t h the I n s t i t u t i o n 6% (1) 28% (7) 2. P e r s o n a l i z e d I n s t r u c t i o n a l Support 47% (7) 52% (13) *3 . D i s c o v e r y about the Course 53% (8) 36% (9) *4. Pre-Course P r e p a r a t i o n / P r i o r E x p e c t a t i o n s 27% (4) 40% (10) *5. Encouragement/Support from O u t s i d e t h e U n i v e r s i t y 60% (9) 32% (8) *6. D e a d l i n e s and Schedules 40% (6) 16% (4) *7. P e r s o n a l R e a l i z a t i o n 53% (8) 68% (17) 8. Thoughts About Longer Term Goals 6% (1) 12% (3) *9. Marks Re c e i v e d 33% (5) 12% (3) 10. Change i n Time A v a i l a b l e / Circumstances 87% (13) 76% (19) 11. Course Content 20% (3) 24% (6) *12. Course Design 60% (9) 24% (6) 13 . P r a c t i c a l A p p l i c a t i o n o f L e a r n i n g 20% (3) 20% (5) * C a t e g o r i e s where t h e r e are n o t i c e a b l e d i f f e r e n c e s between the two groups' p a r t i c i p a t i o n r a t e s . 75 TABLE IV Comparison of Ratios Between F a c i l i t a t i n g and Hindering  Incidents i n Categories f o r  Completers and Non-Completers Category Number of Incidents Number of Incidents Reported by Reported by Completers Non-Completers F a c i l i t a - Hindering F a c i l i t a - Hindering t i n g t i n g 1. Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t i o n 0 2. Personalized Instruc-t i o n a l Support 5 *3. Discovery about the Course 7 *4. Pre-Course Preparation / P r i o r Expectations 2 5. Encouragement/Support from Outside the Univ e r s i t y 10 *6. Deadlines and Schedules 7 7. Personal R e a l i z a t i o n 6 8. Thoughts About Longer Term Goals 0 9. Marks Received 5 10. Change i n Time A v a i l -able/Circumstances 2 11. Course Content 2 *12. Course Design 2 13. P r a c t i c a l Application of Learning 2 1 1 7 1 0 23 1 10 10 10 3 10 2 4 2 5 3 12 10 1 2 14 2 0 29 4 5 TOTALS 50 58 63 94 * Categories where there are noticeable differences between completers and non-completers with regard to the r a t i o between hindering and f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents. 76 CHAPTER V DISCUSSION Statement o f R e s u l t s The f i n d i n g s o f the study address the t h r e e r e s e a r c h q u e s t i o n s posed. 1) The students sampled were a b l e t o i d e n -t i f y s i g n i f i c a n t c o n c r e t e e x p e r i e n c e s which e i t h e r h i n d e r e d o r f a c i l i t a t e d t h e i r p r o g r e s s i n d i s t a n c e e d u c a t i o n . 2) S i m i l a r i t i e s and d i f f e r e n c e s were found between completers and non-completers. 3) F a c t o r s i d e n t i f i e d by st u d e n t s i n the study as b e i n g s i g n i f i c a n t i n t h e i r impact on p e r -s i s t e n c e o r withdrawal can c o n t r i b u t e t o the development of a model o f a t t r i t i o n f o r d i s t a n c e e d u c a t i o n s t u d e n t s , t o p l a n n i n g and e v a l u a t i n g r e t e n t i o n s t r a t e g i e s , and t o formu-l a t i n g f u t u r e a t t r i t i o n r e s e a r c h . That a l l s t u d e n t s i n t e r v i e w e d were a b l e t o i d e n t i f y s i g n i f i c a n t e x p e r i e n c e s which a f f e c t e d t h e i r p e r s i s t e n c e can p r o b a b l y be a t t r i b u t e d t o the nature o f the i n t e r v i e w which took the emphasis completely away from the s t u d e n t s ' p r o -g r e s s i n t h e i r c o u r s e s , and p l a c e d i t on t h e i r e x p e r i e n c e s . Rather than b e i n g asked t o r a t i o n a l i z e a chosen behaviour, they were simply asked t o r e l a t e t h e i r e x p e r i e n c e s . In t h i s way, t h e study was s u c c e s s f u l i n p r o d u c i n g d a t a t h a t shows the r e l a t i v e s i g n i f i c a n c e t o students o f some f a c t o r s which 77 influence drop-out and persistence decisions i n distance education (Table I I ) . The p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates reported i n Table II indicate the strength of the categories by showing the extent to which d i f f e r e n t p a r t i c i p a n t s i n the study reported the same kind of incident as hindering or f a c i l i -t a t i n g t h e i r goals. As well, differences and s i m i l a r i t i e s between completers and non-completers emerged, both i n par-t i c i p a t i o n rates i n various categories and i n the r a t i o of f a c i l i t a t i n g to hindering incidents within p a r t i c u l a r categories (Table III and IV). Although the t o t a l number of incidents reported by each of the two groups was r e l a t i v e to t h e i r respective s i z e (for example, completers made up 37.5% of the group and reported 40.75% of the i n c i d e n t s ) , the non-completers reported a higher o v e r a l l r a t i o of hindering to f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents. I t i s noteworthy that both groups reported more hindering incidents than f a c i l i t a t i n g ones. This f i n d i n g probably r e f l e c t s the d i f f i c u l t y of study at a distance f o r adult part-time students. Differences and s i m i l a r i t i e s within p a r t i c u l a r categories are addressed below along with other major f i n d -ings. Change i n Time Available or Circumstances By f a r the strongest category was 'Change i n Time Available or Circumstances', i n which 80% of students reported incidents (Table I I ) . In t o t a l , 56 incidents were 78 reported, 52 of which were hindering (Table I I ) . This f i n d -ing i s consistent with Bean and Metzner's (1985) model of a t t r i t i o n which emphasized the impact of the external environment on adult part-time students. I t i s also con-s i s t e n t with the study by Rekkedal (1981) who concluded that the most s i g n i f i c a n t factors i n drop-out from distance edu-cation were not inherent i n the study method, but rather were the same factors which a f f e c t a l l adult part-time stu-dents, namely, competing demands for t h e i r time and energy and unforeseen changes i n t h e i r circumstances. The highest r a t i o of hindering to f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents (52 to 4) was reported i n the 'Change i n Time Available/Circumstances Category' (Table I I ) . Both com-pl e t e r s and non-completers had high p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates, 87% and 76% r e s p e c t i v e l y (Table I I I ) . However, i t i s s i g n i f i -cant that the p e r s i s t e r s reported almost as many hindering incidents i n t h i s category as the non-completers (Table IV). Throughout the distance education l i t e r a t u r e , a change i n circumstances i s the most often provided reason f o r drop-out. While the findings of t h i s study support t h i s notion, they also show that the kind of incident which held non-completers back also affected completers. Apparently, the completers responded d i f f e r e n t l y to the incidents. An i n t e r a c t i o n a l model of a t t r i t i o n f o r distance education would a s s i s t i n examining how a change i n circumstances i n t e r a c t s with other variables, such as the perceived 79 u t i l i t y of the course and academic a b i l i t y , to produce per-sistence or a withdrawal decision. Personal R e a l i z a t i o n The category with the second highest p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate (63% of students reported incidents) was 'Personal Rea l i z a t i o n ' , r e f l e c t i n g incidents when students became aware of something about themselves which affected t h e i r persistence, such as suddenly f e e l i n g capable of study (Table I I ) . Awareness or personal r e a l i z a t i o n s are not s p e c i f i -c a l l y r e f e r r e d to i n the l i t e r a t u r e , but personal develop-ment i s . Lenz and Schaevitz (cited i n Greenfeig and Gold-berg, 1984) talked about adult students' "... renewed search f o r i d e n t i t y , because many returning adults have neglected t h e i r own goals and devoted most of t h e i r energies to help-ing others a t t a i n t h e i r goals" (p.81). Following from t h i s , Bean and Metzner (1985) discussed how the adult student's i n t e l l e c t u a l development through t h e i r course work c o n t r i -buted to t h e i r personal development. They went on to point out that both Spady and Tinto "... concluded that students' perceptions of t h e i r i n t e l l e c t u a l development was a personal development factor that was p o s i t i v e l y associated with t h e i r persistence i n college" (p. 523), and that t h i s conclusion was supported by several studies of other researchers. More research i s required to explore the kinds of personal 80 r e a l i z a t i o n s which a f f e c t persistence, and to t e s t the r e l i -a b i l i t y of t h i s category as a strong factor. In t h i s study, personal r e a l i z a t i o n was found to be a important factor. In the 'Personal Realization' category, there were not s i g n i f i c a n t l y more hindering incidents (21) than f a c i l i -t a t i n g incidents (16) reported (Table I I ) . More non-completers (68%) than completers (53%) reported incidents i n t h i s category but the r a t i o of f a c i l i t a t i n g to hindering incidents was about the same f o r both groups (Tables III and IV). I t may be that the non-completers are les s personally aware than p e r s i s t e r s on entry, and hence experience more personal r e a l i z a t i o n s as a r e s u l t of attempting studies, but further research i s required before conclusions can be reached. Personalized I n s t r u c t i o n a l Support F i f t y per cent of students reported incidents i n the category 'Personalized Instr u c t i o n a l Support' (Table I I ) . This category includes incidents related to the academic support which students receive from t h e i r tutors. The strength of the category i s consistent with findings that tutor i n t e r a c t i o n i s important to persistence i n distance education (Rekkedal, 1981; Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983; Sweet, 1982). However, i t should be noted that not a l l i n t e r a c t i o n i s perceived as p o s i t i v e . Although the 81 study showed that i n s t r u c t i o n a l support from the tutor i s a powerful fa c t o r i n persistence, i t also showed that the e f f e c t can be negative as often as i t i s p o s i t i v e . About an equal percentage of completers and non-completers reported incidents i n t h i s category, and both groups reported almost as many hindering incidents as f a c i l i t a t i n g (Tables I I I and IV). Hindering incidents usually occurred when the tutor was perceived as not caring about the student. Sweet (1982) discussed the need for instru c t o r s to be "responsive and supportive i n t h e i r interactions with students". (p. 8). In a review of l i t e r a t u r e on a t t r i t i o n and retention i n com-munity colleges, Rounds (1984) c i t e d a large number of stu-dies which pointed to the need f o r improvement of f a c u l t y t r a i n i n g i n i n s t r u c t i o n a l approaches. She quoted from Moore: "Too many teachers consider the task of teaching the high r i s k student ... to be academic s o c i a l work" (Rounds, 1984, p. 8). She concluded that "... there remain on cam-puses ... many of the more t r a d i t i o n a l , academically oriented i n s t r u c t o r s who continue to f e e l that, while under-prepared students may have the r i g h t to an education, i t should not be i n t h e i r courses" (p. 10). This type of a t t i -tude i s a concern f o r open distance education u n i v e r s i t i e s where, on one hand, t r a d i t i o n a l academics are r e c r u i t e d to enhance academic q u a l i t y and i n s t i t u t i o n a l c r e d i b i l i t y while, on the other hand, non-traditional students (older, part-time, i n f u l l - t i m e employment) are attracted by the openness and f l e x i b i l i t y . 82 Discovery About the Course The category, 'Discovery about the Course' had a p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate of 43% (Table I I ) , and included incidents when the student found out something about the course which he or she had not known previously. The incidents usually occurred when the students received t h e i r course packages subsequent to r e g i s t e r i n g . Of the t o t a l of 27 incidents reported, 18 were hindering (Table I I ) . A higher percentage of the completers (53%) than non-completers (36%) reported incidents i n t h i s category (Table I I I ) . However, while the completers had almost an equal number of hindering and f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents, the non-completers had a 12 to 2 r a t i o of hindering to f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents i n t h i s category (Table IV). In other words, although a smaller percentage of drop-outs than completers made discoveries about the course which affected t h e i r persistence, the discoveries which they did make were a hindrance to them. Although a t t r i t i o n l i t e r a t u r e does not s p e c i f i c a l l y discuss how discoveries about courses or the i n s t i t u t i o n a f f e c t persistence, some of the most commonly recommended retention strategies are entry counselling and academic advising, and or i e n t a t i o n programs which "present a meaning-f u l and accurate picture of the i n s t i t u t i o n " . (Lenning et a l . , 1980, p. 97). These strategies are obviously intended to avoid 'surprises' f o r the student. More research i s needed to see why some students experience t h i s and not 83 others. For example, i t may be that those students with no post-secondary experience reported most of the incidents i n t h i s category. Encouragement/Support from Outside the University Forty-three per cent of the students reported incidents when support (or lack of i t ) from outside of the u n i v e r s i t y had an impact on t h e i r persistence (Table I I ) . The strength of the category supported Bean and Metzner (1985) i n t h e i r premise that external encouragement and sup-port were important to the persistence of adult part-time students. Two important findings emerged about t h i s category. The f i r s t i s that almost a l l incidents were f a c i l i t a t i n g (20 out of 22, Table I I ) . The second i s that, although the r a t i o between f a c i l i t a t i n g and hindering incidents (10 to 1) was the same f o r completers and non-completers, the com-pl e t e r s reported a much higher percentage of incidents (60%) than the non-completers (32%). The completers perceived more support from outside the u n i v e r s i t y f o r t h e i r studies than d i d the non-completers. I t i s not c l e a r whether they a c t u a l l y received more support, were more s k i l l e d i n obtain-ing i t , or were i n a better p o s i t i o n to receive i t than were the non-completers. 84 Course Design The next highest p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate (38%) was i n the category, 'Course Design', which included a l l incidents to do with the course package i t s e l f : the i n s t r u c t i o n s given, support materials, examinations, and general layout (Table I I ) . For example, a number of students found i t d i f f i c u l t to know where to s t a r t when they opened the course package or found c e r t a i n i n s t r u c t i o n s confusing. Woodley and P a r l e t t (1983) referred to "badly designed course packages" (p. 6) as contributing to a t t r i -t i o n at The Open University i n B r i t a i n , and Bartels (1982) addressed the issue of the distance education course author's tendency to 'overwrite' the package because i t would be seen and 'judged' by colleagues. F i f t e e n of the 20 incidents reported by students i n the 'Course Design' category were hindering (Table I I ) . Tables III and IV show that a much higher percentage of completers (60%) than non-completers (24%) reported incidents i n t h i s category, and they also had a higher r a t i o of hindering to f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents (10 to 2) compared to the non-completers (5 to 3). This may have been due to the completers having more i n t e r a c t i o n with t h e i r course materials or that they were more adept at recognizing problems with the package. At any rate, the incidents d i d not keep them from p e r s i s t i n g i n t h e i r courses so c e r t a i n other variables must have been present which enabled them to continue despite problems with 85 the course packages. One tentative conclusion from these findings may be that distance education course design i s not as important a factor as i s currently thought. Pre-Course Preparation/Prior Expectations The 'Pre-Course Preparation/Prior Expectation* category had a p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate of 35% (Table I I ) , and included incidents which occurred p r i o r to s t a r t i n g the course (such as seeing a counsellor) or occurred as a r e s u l t of expectations held before s t a r t i n g the course (such as doubting one's academic a b i l i t i e s ) . Thirteen out of the 18 incidents reported i n t h i s category were hindering. This f i n d i n g provides further support f o r those stu-dies which recommend retention strategies such as pre-enrolment support services (Lenning et a l . f 1980; Rounds, 1985; Pantages and Creedon, 1978). Tables III and IV show that only 27% of completers compared to 40% of non-completers reported incidents i n t h i s category, and the non-completers reported a much higher r a t i o of hindering to f a c i l i t a t i n g incidents (10 to 3) than did the completers (3 to 2). I t may be that the same factors which motivate com-pl e t e r s i n t h e i r courses motivate them to seek information and other types of assistance ( s k i l l s assessment, counsel-l i n g , academic advising) p r i o r to s t a r t i n g t h e i r courses, or perhaps they are more experienced students. However, i t i s c l e a r that t h i s category of incidents was more s i g n i f i c a n t 86 i n a hindering way for the non-completers than f o r the com-p l e t e r s . Deadlines and Schedules One quarter of the students reported incidents i n the 'Deadlines and Schedules' category (Table I I ) . This category included incidents when students' persistence was affected by ei t h e r the presence or absence of deadlines and/or schedules. Ten of the 13 incidents were f a c i l i t a t i n g and, i n a l l cases, had to do with the presence of deadlines, e i t h e r self-imposed or imposed by others. A much higher percentage of the completers (40%) reported incidents i n t h i s category than d i d the non-completers (16%, Table I I I ) . Table IV shows that the completers had a noticeably higher r a t i o of f a c i l i t a t i n g to hindering incidents (7 to 1) than the non-completers (3 to 2). These findings are consistent with the r e s u l t s of comparative studies of i n s t i t u t i o n a l 'pacing' and ' s e l f -pacing 1 practices i n distance education i n s t i t u t i o n s which co n s i s t e n t l y demonstrate higher completion rates f o r stu-dents who are paced by i n s t i t u t i o n a l deadlines and schedules (see, f o r example, the studies c i t e d by Coldeway, 1982a, p. 33). A research study by D i S i l v e s t r o and Markowitz (1982), which reported on the re l a t i o n s h i p between learning con-t r a c t s and correspondence study, showed that s t r i c t con-t r a c t s c onsistently helped students to get a prompt s t a r t 8 7 but d i d not influence completion rates. The r e s u l t s of t h i s study showed that the presence of deadlines were reported as having a p o s i t i v e e f f e c t , but were a s i g n i f i c a n t factor only for the completers. I t may be that the non-completers did not know how to schedule t h e i r studies and d i d nothing to use deadlines i n the same way as the completers did. For the most part, the deadlines which the completers mentioned were self-imposed. Course Content Twenty-three per cent of students reported incidents i n the 'Course Content' category (Table I I ) . This category included incidents when students reported experiences to do with the subject matter of the course as opposed to i t s design, and usually had to do with l e v e l of i n t e r e s t . Twelve incidents were reported i n t o t a l , f i v e hindering and seven f a c i l i t a t i n g . Unlike the findings i n the category, 'Course Design', marked differences were not apparent between completers and non-completers. Although non-completers reported nine of the 1 2 incidents, the p a r t i c i p a -t i o n rates by students were s i m i l a r for both groups (Tables II I and IV). There were no strong trends i n ei t h e r a f a c i l -i t a t i n g or hindering d i r e c t i o n . I t may be that, f o r one or two of the non-completers, course content was an important factor which would account for more incidents being reported by them. Course content, as i t re l a t e s to the student's 88 l e v e l of i n t e r e s t , has been mentioned as a factor i n per-sistence i n distance education. Bartels (1982) noted that drop-outs were les s s a t i s f i e d than p e r s i s t e r s with course content and emphasized the importance of students being able to choose courses according to t h e i r i n t e r e s t s . Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t i o n There were three basic categories with a 20% comple-t i o n rate (Table I I ) . The f i r s t of these was 'Student Interaction with the I n s t i t u t i o n ' which included a l l contact which the student had with the i n s t i t u t i o n by mail, t e l e -phone or i n person, with the exception of academic support received from the telephone tutor. While t h i s d i d not appear to be a s i g n i f i c a n t factor for completers (only one reported an i n c i d e n t ) , i t appeared to be of some importance to the non-completers (seven reported incidents, Table I I I ) . Out of the nine incidents reported by non-completers, s i x were f a c i l i t a t i n g but apparently not enough to see them through to course completion. I t i s of note that students reported both d i r e c t e f f e c t s of having contact, such as "giving them a boost", and i n d i r e c t e f f e c t s , such as getting a bad impression of the i n s t i t u t i o n . I t appears that j u s t as t u t o r contact can have both a p o s i t i v e and negative impact on persistence, so can other types of s t u d e n t / i n s t i t u t i o n contact. 89 Marks Received The second category with a 20% p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate was 'Marks Received' (Table I I ) . A l l incidents i n t h i s category reported by students were f a c i l i t a t i n g (Table II) but other students have reported to Athabasca University counsellors the negative impact of low marks on persistence. Low grades as a negative v a r i a b l e i n persistence i s also supported by the l i t e r a t u r e (see, f o r example, Woodley and P a r l e t t , 1983). A higher percentage of completers (33%) than non-completers (12%) reported incidents i n t h i s category (Table I I I ) . The completers who reported incidents i n t h i s category had progressed f a r enough i n t h e i r studies to receive marks, had the a b i l i t y to a t t a i n high marks, and were motivated by t h e i r achievement. The same applies to the non-completers but there were fewer of them i n t h i s category. P r a c t i c a l Application of Learning The t h i r d category with a 20% p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate was 'P r a c t i c a l Application of Learning 1 (Table I I ) . This category included incidents where students were able to r e l a t e the content of t h e i r studies to t h e i r experience. The incidents were f a c i l i t a t i n g to the extent that students saw t h e i r studies as useful f o r p r a c t i c a l a p p l i c a t i o n and/or t h e i r experience as h e l p f u l to t h e i r studies. There were almost an equal number of f a c i l i t a t i n g and hindering 90 incidents (Table I I ) . The incidents were viewed as hindering to the extent that t h e i r studies were seen as redundant to t h e i r experience and, hence, of l i t t l e use. Given the emphasis on u t i l i t y of studies i n the l i t e r a t u r e on adult part-time students (Bean and Metzner, 1985), i t i s somewhat su r p r i s i n g that more students did not i d e n t i f y t h i s category as a s i g n i f i c a n t factor. However, combining t h i s category with 'Thoughts about Longer Term Goals' might have raised the p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate somewhat. Students described the incidents i n these two categories d i f f e r e n t l y so they are reported separately, but they both r e l a t e to u t i l i t y of stu-dies as defined by Bean and Metzner (1985). The p a r t i c i p a t i o n rates f o r completers and non-completers were i d e n t i c a l i n the ' P r a c t i c a l A pplication of Learning' category and there was no marked difference between the two groups i n the r a t i o between f a c i l i t a t i n g and hindering incidents. Thoughts about Longer Term Goals The l a s t and smallest category was 'Thoughts about Longer Term Goals' with a p a r t i c i p a t i o n rate of 10% (Table I I ) . I t could be argued that the small number of students (four) reporting does not warrant a separate category. How-ever, these incidents were described d i f f e r e n t l y than those i n the preceding category, ' P r a c t i c a l Application of Learn-ing', which would be the most c l o s e l y r e l a t e d set of 91 incidents. These were incidents when students r e l a t e d t h e i r studies to long-term goals as opposed to immediate app l i c a -t i o n . These were f a c i l i t a t i n g to the extent that the stu-dent already had strong commitment to a goal and knew what was required to reach i t . They were hindering i f the stu-dent had weak goal commitment or was unsure what was required to reach the goal. There were only f i v e incidents reported i n t h i s category, three hindering and two f a c i l i -t a t i n g (Table I I ) . As i n the previous category, t h i s i s su r p r i s i n g considering that adult students are often reported to take courses for career reasons (Bean and Metzner, 1985). Implications f o r a Conceptual Model I t i s c l e a r from the findings of t h i s study, and the review of the l i t e r a t u r e , that the a t t r i t i o n process i s a complicated mix of student, i n s t i t u t i o n a l , and environmental var i a b l e s which i n t e r a c t over time to produce a drop-out decision. So far , the conceptual model which appears most useful i n describing t h i s process i n the distance education context i s the one developed by Bean and Metzner (1985), s p e c i f i c a l l y f o r adult, part-time commuter students. Their model proposed that withdrawal decisions were based on four major categories of var i a b l e s : 1) background and d e f i n i n g c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the student such as age, enrolment status, and gender; 2) academic variables such as 92 study habits and course a v a i l a b i l i t y ; 3) environmental v a r i a b l e s such as finances, hours of employment, outside encouragement, and family r e s p o n s i b i l i t y ; and 4) psycholog-i c a l v a r i a b l e s such as perceived u t i l i t y of studies, s a t i s -f a c t i o n , goal commitment and stress. Bean and Metzner proposed that these four sets of v a r i a b l e s could contribute d i r e c t l y , i n d i r e c t l y or could i n t e r a c t to produce outcomes of performance (marks) and/or an i n t e n t i o n to leave which could lead to a drop-out d e c i -sion. They described four ways i n which the model was i n t e r a c t i v e . F i r s t l y , there were d i r e c t e f f e c t s between v a r i a b l e s or between variables and outcomes, such as that which a lack of course a v a i l a b i l i t y might have on a decision to drop out. Secondly, there were d i r e c t e f f e c t s presumed most important, such as the impact of study habits on marks. Th i r d l y , there was p r o v i s i o n f o r the possible e f f e c t s of l e s s e r variables such as Tinto's (1975) s o c i a l integration v a r i a b l e s . Lastly, and probably most importantly, were the compensatory i n t e r a c t i o n e f f e c t s among sets of v a r i a b l e s . The simplest way to define these i s to i l l u s t r a t e with an example used by Bean and Metzner. I t has been shown that environmental var i a b l e s are an important factor i n persistence f o r adult students. At the same time, i t has been shown that academic var i a b l e s are an important factor i n persistence f o r almost a l l students. Bean and Metzner proposed that, when both of 93 these sets of variables were favourable to persistence, the student would continue, and, i f both sets were unfavourable, the students would most l i k e l y drop out. However, i f academic va r i a b l e s were favourable but environmental v a r i -ables were not, adult students would s t i l l be l i k e l y to drop out because the academic variables would not compensate f o r poor environmental support. On the other hand, i f there were favourable environmental conditions but poor academic vari a b l e s , the adult student would s t i l l be l i k e l y to per-s i s t because, f o r them, environmental support could overcome the academic va r i a b l e s . I t i s c l e a r that the content of the sets of v a r i -ables and the r e l a t i v e importance of v a r i a b l e s i n an i n t e r a c t i o n a l model of a t t r i t i o n i s e n t i r e l y dependent on the p a r t i c u l a r student population, and what students per-ceive and experience as being important to t h e i r per-sistence. The factors which were reported as being c r i t i c a l to persistence by students i n t h i s study can be used to modify the Bean and Metzner model to r e f l e c t the distance education context. The four major categories of va r i a b l e s , the outcomes, and the i n t e r a c t i o n a l e f f e c t s of the model appear appropriate, but some of the context within the major categories requires change. For example, one sub-category under 'Academic Variables' i s 'absenteeism' (Bean and Metzner, 1985, p. 491). This i s obviously not appropriate to the distance education context. 94 Once the Bean and Metzner model has been modified for the distance education context, i t could then be tested for r e l i a b i l i t y and v a l i d i t y i n the same way that the Tinto model has been (Terenzini and Pascarella, 1980), and could be used to examine empirically the r e l a t i v e s i g n i f i c a n c e of var i a b l e s which are associated with drop-out i n the distance education l i t e r a t u r e . I t i s proposed that the four major categories of var i a b l e s i n the model could be modified as follows, using findings from t h i s study. Additions are marked with an as t e r i s k and proposed deletions are noted. Some factors have been l e f t unchanged. This recognizes the appropriate-ness of the ra t i o n a l e for i n c l u s i o n given by Bean and Metzner (1985) to the student population addressed i n t h i s study. The ra t i o n a l e f o r changes to the model i s provided immediately below the following summary of the modified categories. (1) Background and Defining Variables - age - enrolment status (*specify program/non-program) - residence (*urban/rural) - educational goals - high school performance (*if applicable) - *highest l e v e l of education achieved - e t h n i c i t y (delete, unless studying s p e c i a l groups) - gender 95 (2) Academic Variables - study habits - major c e r t a i n t y - *information) (intended to address 'Pre-Course Preparation/ - *orientation) P r i o r Expectation' and 'Discovery about Course') - academic advising - *study s k i l l s assistance - *assessment (intended to p a r t i a l l y address 'Discovery about S e l f ) - *career planning - *deadlines and schedules/pacing - *personalized i n s t r u c t i o n a l support - *course content - *course design - course a v a i l a b i l i t y - absenteeism (delete) (3) Environmental Variables - finances - hours of employment - outside encouragement - family r e s p o n s i b i l i t i e s - *change i n time available/circumstances - opportunity to t r a n s f e r (4) Psychological Outcomes - u t i l i t y (*includes ' P r a c t i c a l Application' and 'Longer Term Goals') - s a t i s f a c t i o n - *personal r e a l i z a t i o n - goal commitment (*defined as importance of completing the course) - stress (delete i n favor of more e x p l i c i t variables) The f i r s t category, 'Background and Defining V a r i -ables', was modified using the information about defining c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the population (Table I ) . In the Atha-basca U n i v e r s i t y context, enrolment status can be widely defined as program and non-program. Since commitment to a program of studies has been seen as a factor i n persistence 96 i n the l i t e r a t u r e , t h i s wide d e f i n i t i o n was seen as an important v a r i a b l e to t e s t . Residence i s defined as eithe r urban or r u r a l . I t i s commonly thought that distance education students are mainly from r u r a l areas which do not have a campus-based i n s t i t u t i o n , but, i n fact, over 60% of the Athabasca Univer-s i t y student population are from urban areas. I t i s specu-la t e d that the two groups are d i f f e r e n t i n t h e i r motivations for choosing distance study, and i n the outside resources which are av a i l a b l e to them, such as l i b r a r y f a c i l i t i e s . For t h i s reason, l o c a t i o n i s commonly used as a defining c h a r a c t e r i s t i c i n i n s t i t u t i o n a l analyses of the student body, so i t i s important to t e s t i t s s i g n i f i c a n c e f o r per-sistence. The Athabasca University open admissions p o l i c y means that students have much more heterogeneous educational backgrounds than at i n s t i t u t i o n s with more s p e c i f i c entrance requirements. Since past educational achievement and experience are consistently noted throughout the l i t e r a t u r e as being important to persistence, t h i s c h a r a c t e r i s t i c was added to the model. High school performance was l e f t i n because i t has been shown to be an important v a r i a b l e , but students at an open u n i v e r s i t y may not necessarily have attended high school. 97 E t h n i c i t y has never been an important defining c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of Athabasca University students nor does i t appear as an important factor i n the distance education l i t e r a t u r e . For t h i s reason, i t should be deleted unless s p e c i a l groups, such as native students, are being studied. A number of factors have been added to the 'Academic Variables'. These a l l f a l l into the category of retention strategies to be tested. Bean and Metzner (1985) suggest that, i f major e f f o r t s are being made by an i n s t i t u t i o n to address a t t r i t i o n through p a r t i c u l a r programs, these should be added as variables i n t h i s category. The way i n which the a d d i t i o n a l factors r e f l e c t the findings of the study i s addressed more f u l l y i n the next section, 'Implications f o r Retention Strategies•. Change i n time avai l a b l e and circumstances was the only f a c t o r added to 'Environmental Variables'. This was the fa c t o r from the study which had the highest proportion of students reporting incidents. I t i s also the factor a f f e c t i n g persistence i n distance education which i s most often c i t e d i n the l i t e r a t u r e . Under 'Psychological Outcomes', there was one addi-t i o n and two c l a r i f i c a t i o n s of d e f i n i t i o n s . 'Personal Real-i z a t i o n ' was added because t h i s was reported by 63% of respondents to the study and i t was seen as a psychological outcome of t h e i r experience i n t h e i r courses which had a 98 d i r e c t impact on t h e i r persistence. An example of t h i s was a r e a l i z a t i o n about being capable of u n i v e r s i t y work. U t i l -i t y was redefined to r e f l e c t the way i n which students i n t h i s study described i t , which included immediate p r a c t i c a l a p p l i c a t i o n of studies and r e l a t i o n to longer term goals. Goal commitment was redefined as commitment to completing one course as opposed to a program because t h i s more accu-r a t e l y r e f l e c t e d the aspirations and behaviours of the stu-dent population. As well, the defining c h a r a c t e r s t i c of program/non-program was already included i n the f i r s t set of v a r i a b l e s . With the modifications described above, the Bean and Metzner model appears appropriate to the distance education context and, as such, can be used as a framework to more c l e a r l y set out what i s already known about a t t r i t i o n and as a guide f o r future studies. Implications f o r Retention Strategies The emphasis i n a t t r i t i o n research should be on prevention, not p r e d i c t i o n . Once s i g n i f i c a n t factors a f f e c t i n g persistence have been i d e n t i f i e d f o r a given popu-l a t i o n , then retention strategies can be developed and evaluated as variables within a model, as described i n the previous section, 'Implications f o r Conceptual Models'. I t i s encouraging to see from t h i s study that some 99 students p e r s i s t despite experiences which they perceive as negative. I t may be that they have better coping s t r a -tegies, more experience and knowledge, a learning s t y l e more na t u r a l l y suited to distance study, and/or a host of other c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s which predispose them toward persistence. Cle a r l y , more information i s needed about p e r s i s t e r s . What we do know from t h i s f inding i s that there probably are avoidable drop-outs. Hence, i f retention strategies can be developed which change students' experiences or the way i n which they perceive or respond to c e r t a i n experiences, a t t r i t i o n rates may be lowered as a r e s u l t . As Lenning et a l . (1980) state: The task i s not to eliminate a t t r i t i o n , a task that i s unfeasible as well as undesirable. Instead, the task i s to a s s i s t a r e l a t i v e l y small percentage of students to persist...A s h i f t of even a few percentage points i n retention s t a t i s t i c s could benefit i n d i v i d u a l stu-dents and have a major impact on the i n s t i t u t i o n . (p. 29). Recommendations f o r retention strategies can a f f e c t almost a l l areas of an i n s t i t u t i o n . The emphasis i n t h i s section w i l l be on those concerning student support services, par-t i c u l a r l y advising and counselling programs. Recruitment and Information Students need accurate information on which to base t h e i r choice of courses, programs, and mode of study. Many students i n t h i s study f e l t that there was too much emphasis 100 i n the information they received p r i o r to enrolment about the f l e x i b i l i t y , open admissions and ease of enrolment, and not eough about the r e a l i t i e s of being a distance education student. Many students were shocked by the sheer s i z e of the course packages while others did not r e a l i z e how much they would be on t h e i r own. Accurate information programs p r i o r to enrolment not only provide a sound base for decision-making, but they also bring students' expectations more i n l i n e with r e a l i t y . For example, group information sessions can include an introduction to sample course materials. Orientation Programs/Assessment Services Orientation programs are important f o r some of the same reasons as information programs. However, they should provide the student with an opportunity to f i n d out informa-t i o n about themselves as well as information about the i n s t i t u t i o n . This helps the student to see how well h i s or her c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s match i n s t i t u t i o n a l demands. Sometimes, adjustments can be made to enhance the f i t . Student assess-ment should not be l i m i t e d to t r a d i t i o n a l types of aptitude t e s t s , but should challenge the i n d i v i d u a l to examine such factors as study habits, reasons f o r returning to school, and learning s t y l e . For example, i f an adult i s returning to school f o r s o c i a l reasons, or t h e i r learning s t y l e i s one which requires i n t e r a c t i o n , then distance education may only 101 be a su i t a b l e mode of learning i f they have an opportunity to j o i n a study group. Orientation should address ways i n which the student can adapt t h e i r learning resources to f i t t h e i r needs. Assessment of basic s k i l l s such as writing, reading, and mathematics enables the student to judge h i s or her readiness f o r u n i v e r s i t y study and, i f necessary, to take remedial courses. Orientation programs should include an introduction to the kinds of coping s k i l l s necessary to deal with unfore-seen circumstances. For example, s e t t i n g up a study schedule which allows a month leeway might enable the stu-dent to cope with a family i l l n e s s . I f possible, or i e n t a -t i o n programs should include s i g n i f i c a n t others to give them an idea of how the students' return to school w i l l a f f e c t them, and how they might help. A l t e r n a t i v e l y , the orienta-t i o n program can openly address the issue of e n l i s t i n g the help of others i n pursuing educational goals. Other Counselling Programs A v a r i e t y of other counselling programs are required to f a c i l i t a t e persistence. Probably the most important of these are study s k i l l s assistance, career planning, and c r i s i s counselling. Study s k i l l s programs can teach stu-dents s k i l l s which w i l l help them to meet the sp e c i a l demands of distance study, from providing an approach to the learning materials to teaching strategies f o r getting family 102 support. Career p l a n n i n g h e l p s students t o c l a r i f y t h e i r long-term g o a l s and t o see how t h e i r study f i t s i n t o t h e i r p l a n s . I t may i n c r e a s e the p e r c e i v e d u t i l i t y o f t h e i r c o u r s e s o r h e l p them t o choose a more a p p r o p r i a t e d i r e c t i o n . C r i s i s c o u n s e l l i n g , w i t h an emphasis on t e a c h i n g coping s t r a t e g i e s , can h e l p students through u n f o r e s e e n c i r -cumstances such as marriage break-up, employment l a y o f f or i l l n e s s . S t a f f Development Role f o r C o u n s e l l o r s C o u n s e l l o r s can a l s o p l a y a r o l e i n s t a f f develop-ment programs w i t h f a c u l t y , t u t o r s and s t a f f who have f r e -quent i n t e r a c t i o n w i t h s t u d e n t s . Students i n the study emphasized the need t o f e e l c a r e d about and supported by t h e i r t u t o r s . C o u n s e l l o r s , because of t h e i r p r o f e s s i o n a l t r a i n i n g , have e x p e r t i s e i n communication s k i l l s which c o u l d be used i n s t a f f t r a i n i n g programs. Other Recommendations I t i s s i g n i f i c a n t t h a t o n l y 2 0 % o f students i n the study mentioned c o n t a c t w i t h the i n s t i t u t i o n o t h e r than t h e i r t u t o r c o n t a c t as b e i n g a s i g n i f i c a n t f a c t o r i n t h e i r p e r s i s t e n c e . Many students had not had any c o n t a c t w i t h the i n s t i t u t i o n o t h e r than the p a s s i n g o f form l e t t e r s and forms through the m a i l . They were o f t e n s u r p r i s e d and p l e a s e d by the i n t e r e s t shown i n them by the i n t e r v i e w e r . Most o f t e n , 103 they were t o t a l l y unaware of services a v a i l a b l e to them. Clea r l y , the i n s t i t u t i o n must be more proactive i n i t s approach to students. Services should be better p u b l i c i z e d and, wherever possible, personal contact of a supportive nature should be made with students. I t should be noted that the same kinds of factors which lead students to withdraw may prevent them from accessing services. A v a r i e t y of approaches must be t r i e d to f i n d out what strategies and what modes of d e l i v e r y work best. Only retention strategies which concern student sup-port services have been addressed here. However, i t i s recognized that the findings of the study also have implica-tions f o r other areas such as course content, course design, deadlines and schedules (pacing) and modes of de l i v e r y . Limitations and Future Research The sample f o r the study was representative of the population of Athabasca University students i n a number of important ways (Table I ) , and the population at the univer-s i t y i s s i m i l a r to that of a number of other distance educa-t i o n i n s t i t u t e s . However, some caution i s warranted i n gen-e r a l i z i n g the r e s u l t s across i n s t i t u t i o n s . Major i n s t i t u -t i o n a l differences i n areas such as entrance requirements and intentions of students to transfer or stay should be 104 considered. I t should be noted that the Bean and Metzner model was developed primarily, but not exclusively, f o r s i n -gle i n s t i t u t i o n a p p l i c a t i o n . In order to develop the model further, research i s needed to confirm or r e j e c t factors found to be s i g n i f i c a n t to persistence and to determine t h e i r r e l a t i v e importance. For example, evaluative research i s needed to t e s t the e f f i -cacy of the suggested retention strategies. As well, work i s also required to understand better and to t e s t the i n t e r a c t i o n a l e f f e c t s . Summary A l l respondents were able to i d e n t i f y s i g n i f i c a n t concrete experiences which hindered or f a c i l i t a t e d t h e i r persistence i n distance education courses. There were s i g -n i f i c a n t l y more hindering experiences reported than f a c i l i -t a t i n g ones, which probably r e f l e c t s the great number of possible d i f f i c u l t i e s faced by adult, part-time students studying at a distance. S i m i l a r i t i e s and differences were found between completers and non-completers. There was sup-port f o r the premise that there are avoidable drop-outs i n the f i n d i n g that p e r s i s t e r s often reported the same kind and number of hindering incidents as d i d the non-completers. Thirteen basic categories emerged from the 265 incidents reported. The categories which emerged as most 105 s i g n i f i c a n t , as indicated by the proportion of students reporting them, were: 'Change i n Time Available or C i r -cumstances', 'Personal Realization' and 'Personalized I n s t r u c t i o n a l Support *. Factors i d e n t i f i e d by students i n the study as being s i g n i f i c a n t , along with the defining c h a r a c t e r i s t i c s of the population, were used to modify an e x i s t i n g model of a t t r i -t i o n (Bean and Metzner, 1985) to r e f l e c t the distance educa-t i o n context of Athabasca University. 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Drop-out i n d i s t a n c e e d u c a t i o n : f a l l a c i e s and remedies. Unpublished paper, P r e t o r i a : U n i v e r s i t y o f South A f r i c a , 1983. Woodley, A. and P a r l e t t , M. Student drop-out. Teaching a t a D i s t a n c e , 1983, 24^ , 2-23. Woolsey, L.K. The c r i t i c a l i n c i d e n t t e c h n i q u e : An i n n o v a t i v e q u a l i t a t i v e method of r e s e a r c h . Canadian J o u r n a l  of C o u n s e l l i n g , 1986, 20, 242-254. I l l APPENDIX I - LETTER OF INITIAL CONTACT Dear The Student Services u n i t i s currently conducting a study regarding completion of distance education courses. Your name was chosed at random from a l l students i n t h e i r f i r s t course with Athabasca University. We are interested i n what you can t e l l us about your experience with the course regardless of your current status i n i t . Someone from the Student Services o f f i c e w i l l give you a c a l l within the next week to f i n d out i f you are w i l -l i n g to p a r t i c i p a t e i n t h i s study. Appointments f o r a t e l e -phone interview (approximately 30 minutes i n length) w i l l be required of each p a r t i c i p a n t . Should you decide to take part i n the study, you w i l l have the r i g h t to withdraw at any time. Any personal information obtained during the interviews w i l l be held i n confidence. Results of the study w i l l be reported i n grouped form only, with no names attached to i t . I t i s our hope that t h i s study w i l l give us more information about what helps and hinders students i n com-p l e t i n g distance education courses. As a r e s u l t , we a n t i c i -pate being able to design more e f f e c t i v e counselling pro-grams to a i d students i n t h e i r studies. I f you have further questions about the project, please f e e l free to discuss them when we c a l l you. I f you decided you would l i k e to be involved with the study, an appointment f o r an interview at a time convenient to you w i l l be set. Thank you f o r your consideration. Sincerely, Jane E. Brindley 112 APPENDIX II - CONSENT FORM Consent Form fo r P a r t i c i p a t i o n i n the Study: "Completion and A t t r i t i o n i n Distance Education" The purpose of t h i s project i s to gather information which w i l l be h e l p f u l i n designing counselling programs for distance education students. Participants i n t h i s study w i l l be interviewed once by telephone for approximately t h i r t y minutes. A l l i n d i v i d u a l interview information w i l l be kept c o n f i d e n t i a l . P a r t i c i p a n t s 1 names w i l l not be attached to the reported data; i t w i l l be presented i n group format only. Participants have the r i g h t to withdraw from the project at any time without prejudice to t h e i r studies at Athabasca University. I, , give my consent to p a r t i c i -pating i n the above study. Name: (please print) This study i s being c a r r i e d out by the Student Ser-v i c e s Unit at Athabasca University. Any further information which p a r t i c i p a n t s require may be obtained by telephoning the Edmonton o f f i c e at Charges may be reversed on long distance c a l l s . 

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