First Advisor

Mary Kinnick

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Postsecondary Education


Educational Leadership and Policy




Marylhurst University -- Students, Marylhurst University, College attendance -- Oregon, College dropouts -- Oregon, Distance education -- Oregon



Physical Description

1 online resource (226 pages)


Over the past 6 years, the course retention rate for Marylhurst University's (MU) online courses was 91%, which is within four percentage points of its on-campus course retention rate (Schreck, 2002). This appears to contradict a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that stated, "Although there is significant variation among institutions with some reporting course-completion rates of more than 80% and others finding that fewer than 50% of distance-education students finish their courses, several administrators concur that course-completion rates are often 10-20 percentage points higher in traditional courses than in distance offerings" (Carr, 2000). Recent studies (Beatty-Gunter 2001; Crabtree, 2000; Cutler, 2000; Fox, 2000; Moore, Bartkovich, Fetzner, & Ison, 2002; Morrow, Woodyard, Mora, & Nather, 2001; Valdez, 2001) corroborate Carr's claim and were used to compare with MU results. This grounded theory, web-based, research study aims to explicate the reasons why MU online students complete courses at high rates and develop this understanding into an online student retention model. A grounded theory approach was used to conduct this study, which is described by Creswell (2002) as, "a systematic, qualitative procedure used to generate a theory that explains, at a broad conceptual level, a process, an action, or interaction about a substantive topic".

The research process helped discover and shape the Online Course Retention Model (OCRM). The OCRM theorizes four major areas for inquiry into online course retention (Administration, Course, Student, and Teacher). Each major area of inquiry is divided into three variables of varying importance to online course retention. Perhaps the most profound discovery was not the major themes and supporting variables, but rather, the relationships between variables, and how these relationships explain the MU situation. The research concludes with an examination of possible "best practices" in online course retention, ideas for future research, and recommendations for implementation. Successful online course retention at Marylhurst University: Constructing a model for online course retention using grounded theory.


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