Drivers of Student Retention: System Availability, Privacy, Value and Loyalty in Online Higher Education

By Kilburn, Ashley; Kilburn, Brandon et al. | Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Drivers of Student Retention: System Availability, Privacy, Value and Loyalty in Online Higher Education


Kilburn, Ashley, Kilburn, Brandon, Cates, Tommy, Academy of Educational Leadership Journal


INTRODUCTION

Over the last decade, the face of academia has changed toward a B2C e-commerce platform. Traditional brick and mortar classrooms have been ever increasingly substituted by the virtual interface between the student and the institution. Current trends increasingly suggest that college students are taking fewer classes in the live classroom and more online. Over the last decade, online-only course enrollment in higher education is projected to increase from .78 million to a projected 3.97 million by 2014 (Wisloski, 2011). As a result, 64.2% of universities are citing online programs as critical to their long-term strategic plans (Babsen Survey Research Group, 2012; Wisloski, 2011). Currently online education is continuously extending beyond the traditional instructional boundaries due to knowledge transfer via electronic communities and the convenience and flexibility to study anytime and anywhere. The ubiquitous online interface allows students the opportunity to learn at their own pace and style while saving the student travel time and money, as well as effort of physically attending classes. For universities and colleges, online instruction provides an opportunity for greater geographic reach than has ever been possible.

Advances in teaching technology are constantly being adopted to complement the browser based classroom. Due to this value added convenience and flexibility; these advances have created a vast new market for universities in the form of students who could not pursue their education using the traditional format. Student retention is currently at the top of most universities' checklists; 2012 completion trends estimated that only 36.6% of students enrolled in 4-year public college will complete their bachelor's degree within 5 years, down from 52.8% in 1986 (ACT, 2012). The emergence of alternative delivery methods of educating, such as the online classroom, provides an increased level of convenience and availability which theoretically leads to increased degree completion. As a result, providers of on-line education strive to maintain a constant level of quality in online education which will result in increased student enrollment and retention.

With this emphasis on high quality and student retention, institutions providing on-line education must implement assessment measures to ensure quality objectives. This begs the question: What types of measures should these institutions employ? Research obtained from the services marketing field may be employed to help address this critical question. Based on this research, assessing the quality of the electronic service provided can allow valuable insight into student enrollment and existing student retention. A progressive understanding of electronic service quality and its measurement will become an extremely valuable asset as it is applied to online enrollment and student retention.

THE QUALITY OF ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION

In traditional e-commerce, repeat sales, positive word-of-mouth, customer loyalty, and competitive product differentiation have been linked to service quality and increased profitability which can provide a competitive advantage (Brown and Swartz 1989; Sherden, 1988). When applied to higher education institutions, these types of factors are to be considered in the initial movement toward establishing quality control. As universities are beginning to consider quality control and assessment in the online environment (Abdullah, 2006), the development of sound measures are crucial.

With the changing landscape of higher education, comes a level of uncertainty when addressing unchartered territory. A relatively new system typically is met with a fear of the unknown, and concern over institutional changes and their implications. These concerns over the future are not hindering the progression of online educators entering into the mainstream. As of 2005, approximately 60% of colleges and universities offering traditional undergraduate courses were also offering online degree programs (Allen and Seaman, 2005). …

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