Student employment, inflexible university policies drive online dropout

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Employment is the main reason students drop out of online degree courses, our new research shows. This is despite claims that online university programs offer greater flexibility to workers and employers who want to up-skill.

Most online dropouts occur due to students’ changing employment commitments, which affect their ability to complete assessments on time.

However, the assessment policies of many universities offer no concession for work-related challenges, so working students often fail to resume their studies. To tackle the biggest driver of attrition, university policies must offer flexibility around employment and assessment. Only then can universities truly provide the flexible online learning experience that workers and industry require.

What is the problem?

Our research shows the assessment policies of many online courses are no more flexible than their on-campus counterparts. Some vaguely mention that employment and leave extensions are subject to course co-ordinator discretion. Others explicitly state that work is not a valid reason for granting extensions for assignments.

Some universities have merely adopted traditional on-campus policies for their online programs. This approach highlights the disconnect between university policymakers and the needs of online students.

Retention is the biggest challenge facing online educators. For example, Open Universities Australia, a provider with more than 41,000 online students, experienced attrition rates above 20% for its introductory online units.

A recent Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency report stresses that such high attrition represents huge revenue loss and creates reputational issues for governments and institutions.

Retention rates are often mistakenly used as a measure of a university’s quality. Read More

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