Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Yu, Chien

Committee Member

Olinzock, Anthony

Committee Member

Davis, James

Committee Member

Schmitz, Darrel

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

MSU Only Indefinitely

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education


Department of Instructional Systems and Workforce Development


The purpose of this study was to develop a better understanding of factors that contribute to persistence in distance learning, and to provide program administrators with research-based recommendations on ways to improve retention rates and academic performance in an online graduate program for educators in the geosciences. This study used both quantitative and qualitative analysis to answer 5 research questions. The quantitative component of the study assessed whether student characteristics which could be identified and quantified through a premission screening correlated to persistence and academic success in the program. Data were collected through a voluntary survey administered during the program orientation. The qualitative component of the study consisted of interviews which were conducted to gain more concrete insights into the perceptions and practices of 2 student groups. The first group of interviewees was granted provisional admission with an undergraduate GPA under 2.75. Each went on to graduate with a cumulative GPA above 3.40. The students in the second group were put on academic probation for earning a course grade below a C early in the program and then went on to graduate. The results showed that there was not a statistically significant difference in the cumulative undergraduate GPA of those who persisted in the program versus those who withdrew or who were dismissed from the program. However, there was a significant difference in the undergraduate grades earned specifically in science courses. An unanticipated finding was that students who had not met with departmental faculty or program alumni were more than twice as likely to leave the program not in good academic standing. It appears that personal interaction is necessary for students to understand what is necessary be successful in the program. As such, administrators should consider incorporating more pre-program advising. It is evident that even students with a history of undergraduate academic success had misconceptions regarding the time commitment necessary to be academically successful. In addition, being a nontraditional student with a need to balance work, personal obligations, and extenuating circumstances was often a more important factor in performance and persistence than the online format of the program.