Rethinking dropout in online higher education: The case of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
In recent years, several studies have been carried out into the reasons why students drop out of online higher education, following the rise in the relative weight of this form of education. However, more effort has gone into analyzing the causes of this phenomenon than into trying to characterize students who drop out, that is defining what a dropout student is. But obtaining a proper definition of dropout is just as important as describing its causes. It also appears that the definition of dropout is very sensitive to context. As one of the main findings of this article, we reach a pure empirical definition, at a programme level, of students who drop out of an online higher education context with non-mandatory enrollment. This definition is based on the probability of students not continuing a specific academic programme following several consecutive semesters of “theoretical break”, and is highly adaptable to institutions offering distance education with no permanence requirements, that is ones offering the possibility of taking breaks. Our findings show that there are differences regarding the number of consecutive semesters that define dropout depending on whether the programme requires previous experience or not. Additionally, we observe significant differences in the dropout rate between specific programmes, as well as a higher level of dropout in the first semesters. Analyzing the reasons behind these facts should help higher education institutions to make more sound and efficient decisions.
Copyright (c) 2014 Josep Grau-Valldosera, Julià Minguillón
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