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The Humanities Conference 2003

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“Stopping out”, Persisting, and Completing Online Graduate Degree Programs

Faye Lesht, Najmuddin Shaik.

The majority of research examining factors that contribute to student completion and attrition rates has focused on youth engaged in traditional forms of schooling. There is a body of literature that examines the phenomena of participation, retention and attrition among adult learners that suggests that factors influencing adult participation and completion of formal education differ from those influencing youth. Schooling is not the primary focus of most adults attention. They typically have myriad responsibilities and committing to formal education in adulthood presents particular challenges to the learner and to providers serving them. This is nowhere more evident than in the case of adults engaging in formal post-baccalaureate education via online degree programs.
Both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies were used for analysis. Quantitative methods for completion information consisted of an online questionnaire while qualitative analysis was based on open ended questions on the online questionnaire and the analysis of personal interview data of a selected group of participants. Data on the phenomena of “stopping out” is based on interviews with select participants.
Based on the literature review and this exploratory study, best practices are identified to assist institutions planning to offer or offering online degree programs. The best practices are presented using a framework that includes Students, Instructors, Learning Environments, Program Attributes and External Attributes.
In summary, preliminary analysis of partial data from this study suggest that student, program, faculty, learning environment and external factors such as family support and an understanding and supportive workplace are of critical importance to a student’s ability to complete an online degree program, at least using the cohort model.


Faye Lesht  (United States)
Head, Division of Academic Outreach
Office of Continuing Education
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Faye L. Lesht is the head of academic outreach at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has a Ph.D. in Continuing Higher Education from the College of Education at the University of Illinois. Her work has focused on improving an understanding of online learners and factors influencing student retention and completion in the online learning environment as well as the aftermath of online experiences in terms of alumni.

As head of Academic Outreach she oversees program development for paced and self-paced courses offered by a variety of instructional delivery methods. She also oversee the budget and personnel. She is the co-chair of the Graduate College Committee on Extended Education and External Degrees and serve on the campus Assistant and Associate Deans committee for which she chair a subcommittee on Institutional Credit. She co-taught an advanced seminar on academic leadership with former University of Illinois President Stanley O. Ikenberry.

Her recent presentations were in Distance Teaching and Learning Conference 1999, University Continuing Education Association Region IV Conference, October, 2000, AHEA 20th Alliance/ACE Conference 2000, World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation 2000, Online Conference on Teaching and Learning 2003, Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning 2003. and the Illinois Consortium on Continuing Higher Education (ICCHE) 2003. This research related to factors influencing completion of online degree programs was supported by a grant from ICCHE

Najmuddin Shaik  (United States)
Research Programmer
Division of Academic Outreach, Office of Continuing Education
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Najmuddin Shaik is a Research programmer with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has a Ph.D in Human Resource Education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MS in Computer Science from Northern Illinois University. He has been active in the areas of designing e-learning system, program evaluation, and psychometrics of scale development. His recent presentations were in the Academy of Human Resource Development 1999, American Dairy Association 1999, International Learning Technology 2000 Conference, WebNet 1999 and WebNet 2000 World Conference on WWW and Internet, International Lerning Conference 2001 and 2003, International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities 2003, Online Conference on Teaching and Learning 2003, Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning 2003. His recent publications are in the Journal of Interactive Learning Research and The American Journal of Distance Education. His publications covered the areas of scale development, program evaluation, and computer-mediated communication.

  • Cohort Program
  • Distance Education
  • Online Degree programs
  • Student Dropout
  • Student Retention
  • Student Persistence
  • Stopping Out
  • Best Practices
  • Program Completion
Person as Subject
  • Students enrolled in online degree cohort programs

(Virtual Presentation, English)