October 13, 2014

A survey has found that social isolation and a seemingly never-ending course workload are major factors for students who discontinue their online studies.

The Hobsons survey of more than 1300 students who had withdrawn, deferred or changed their tertiary enrolment in the 12 months prior, found 28 per cent of students discontinued their studies for personal reasons such as financial pressures, health or employment.

Around one in five discontinuing students (26 per cent) left for reasons specifically related to their experience at university, including dissatisfaction with the course, institution or teaching; issues with commuting; or finding the course to be too hard or too easy.

One in three of discontinuing students (34 per cent) were enrolled through online/distance education and 52 per cent of online students described themselves as not at all engaged in university life, compared to 21 per cent of on-campus students.

Hobsons APAC Managing Director, David Harrington said online providers need to be more transparent, open and honest with students investigating online study.

“Just because it’s online and `in their own time’ does not mean it is any easier for students or that they have to commit less time to study,” he said.

“The reality is that online students are less engaged with their institution, and evidence shows that students who are less engaged are more likely to withdraw, defer or change their enrolment.”

Mr Harrington said an initial discussion about the realities of online study should be compulsory for all students who enrol online.

“We also believe students should enter a `personal contact program’ in which they are contacted at critical points over the first 12 months of study, when they are most at risk of withdrawing, and directed to relevant support services if required.”

Mr Harrington notes that engaging with students is crucial for all tertiary institutions as global competition for international student recruitment heats up and in Australia the fight to attract students will get more aggressive in a deregulated market.

The `Student Engagement and Retention’ report also found:

  • 33 per cent of online students described teaching quality as good or excellent, compared to 58 per cent of on-campus students.
  • 48 per cent of students reported that they are now working, 36 per cent have applied for another course and 15 per cent claim they are unlikely to return to study in the next five years.
  • Personal reasons relating to health and caring were more commonly cited by female students (38 per cent) compared to male students (21 per cent).
  • Unhappiness with their course was more commonly cited by younger students (33.5 per cent of 18–24 year olds, 19.5 per cent of 25–34 year olds and nine per cent of those aged 35 years and older).
  • Students who stayed at the same institution, having only changed their course, reported the highest level of engagement with student life (24 per cent compared to 11 per cent of discontinuers).

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