Faculty Scholarship 1994 - Present

Enrollment in Distance Education Classes is Associated with Fewer Enrollment Gaps Among Nontraditional Undergraduate Students in the US

The purpose of this research is to determine whether nontraditional undergraduate students in the US who enroll in distance education classes are less likely to have an enrollment gap (enrollment gap=part year enrollment). Previous research has shown that preference for distance education classes is significantly greater among nontraditional than among traditional undergraduate students; nontraditional students invariably have a greater number of competing demands (work and family) on their time. Since distance education courses provide students with more convenient and flexible class schedules, nontraditional students, who have time or location constraints that prevent them from enrolling in face-to-face classes during a semester or quarter, may be more likely to enroll in distance education classes in order to stay enrolled for the entire academic year. Based upon this rationale, we predicted that enrollment in distance education classes is significantly related to a decreased likelihood of an enrollment gap among nontraditional students. To test this prediction, we used data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey (NPSAS) conducted in 2008. The NPSAS 2008 used a complex survey design to collect data from a nationally representative sample of about 113,500 postsecondary undergraduate students in the US. Results confirm our prediction, and show that enrollment in distance education is significantly related to a decreased likelihood of an enrollment gap among nontraditional students, but not among traditional students. Results also show that five of the seven dropout risk factors (identified by previous research to decrease 6-year graduation rates) are each significantly associated with an increased likelihood of an enrollment gap. These results suggest that the offer of distance education classes could increase degree progress and possibly completion rates for nontraditional undergraduates who are at high risk for dropout.