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Student Attrition in On-Line Courses

by Evelyn Beck

ATTRITION RATES FOR most distance education programs are worse than for traditional college courses, with dropout rates as high as 80 percent at some colleges. At Piedmont Technical College, in Greenwood, SC, overall attrition rates for traditional classes average 25 percent, while attrition rates for online courses average 45 percent.

Many of the reasons-such as students’ inexperience with technology or insufficient student support services-are beyond faculty control.

But faculty can have a tremendous impact on retaining students simply by the way they communicate. The form, frequency, promptness, and tone of written and oral interaction with students are very important. The trick is to create a sense of classroom community in the impersonal environment of the Internet. If students feel connected, if they believe that the instructor has a personal interest in them, they might be less likely to drop out.

The explosion of online courses at colleges and universities-and the problem of hanging on to students unprepared for this new way of learning-is leading to some research efforts. “Quality on the Line: Benchmarks for Success in Internet-Based Distance Education,” a new study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, recommends that contact between faculty and students be

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