Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Educational Leadership

Committee Chair/Advisor

Williams, Frankie K.

Committee Member

Cawthon , Tony

Committee Member

Spearman , Mindy

Committee Member

Natvig , Deborah


The number of students taking online courses increased 146% from fall 2002 through fall 2007. In addition, the number of distance education programs increased 299% from 2000–01 through 2006–07. As the number of students taking online courses continues to increase, institutions of higher education will need to focus on increasing student retention and increasing student success. Low retention rates plague online programs that lack engagement practices. One method to achieving student success is engaging online learners early and often using engagement practices focused on increasing interactions with faculty, other students, course content, and members of the community.
Angelino and Natvig's Model for Engagement provided the theoretical framework for the study. Rovai's Composite Persistent Model, based on a synthesis of Bean and Metzner's Student Attrition Model and Tinto's Student Integration Model, further provided the theoretical foundation for the study.
The primary research question for the study was as follows: How do the graduates of an online certificate program at a public university in South Carolina perceive their experiences related to engagement practices? Thirteen secondary research questions related to engagement practices guided the study.
The research study used a qualitative, single case study design. Participants were graduates of an online certificate program between fall 2003 and spring 2008. Participants shared their stories related to engagement practices while completing the program. Data were collected by conducting face-to-face, telephone, and e-mail interviews, compiling summary notes, and gathering artifacts. The data were analyzed following a six step generally accepted process for data analysis
Three overall themes emerged from the findings of the study. The overall emergent theme for recruitment was managing the process. Participants were responsible for making initial contacts, expressing an interest, registering, reading the syllabi and topic/date outlines, and managing their time.
The overall emergent theme for coursework was that each participant had a unique experience focusing on career aspirations. Participants focused on applying the assignments to their work experience and career aspirations.
The overall emergent theme for program completion was celebration of accomplishment. Participants celebrated with classmates, family, and co-workers. Participants were proud of their accomplishment and have their certificates displayed in their offices at work.
General recommendations were made for administrators and accrediting agencies to develop policies for designing effective online programs with a focus on increasing student engagement, student retention, and student success. Recommendations for future research included conducting a national study using a quantitative survey research design for tracking student retention and student attrition for online courses and online programs.



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