Defining the concept: drop out
Dropout is defined contrarily by researchers and there is no consensus about its meaning. According to Martinez (2003) dropping out refers to a student leaving the course without ever returning. Similarly, Botelho et al. (2019) define the dropout student as the one who will never return to complete the course. On the other hand, Kember (1995, p. 21) considered the dropout students in five different categories: “(1) non-starters, (2) informal withdrawals who stopped working on the course, (3) formal withdrawals who completed an official procedure, (4) academic failures, and (5) non-continuers who may never have intended to complete a full program of academic study.”
Researchers (Aydin et al., 2019; Stiller & Bachmaier, 2017), generally do not seek the condition that students have officially dropped out of education. Passive students are also often included in the research. In this study, the requirement that students have dropped out using formal procedures is not considered. Students’ own statements are taken as a basis to verify their condition of being a dropout.
Models for dropout
ODE dropout models are often based on models of face-to-face education. The Student Integration Model, in which Tinto (1975) focuses on why students drop out of face-to-face education, has guided other models. Tinto focuses on student characteristics, academic integration, social integration, goal commitment, and institutional commitment. Furthermore, the student’s academic performance and mental development can also affect the drop out decision.
According to Bean and Metzner’s (1985) conceptual model of non-traditional student attrition, characteristics of students, academic variables, environmental variables, academic success, and psychological outcomes affect the drop out decision. The main difference in the reasons for non-traditional (distance education) students and traditional (face to face) students to drop out is that non-traditional students are more affected by environmental factors than social integration factors (Bean & Metzner, 1985). Students with low academic success are expected to have higher dropout rates than those with high academic success. Nevertheless, even if a student has a high academic grade point average, they may drop out if the perceived benefit is low.
Kember (1995) has developed a model of student progress in open learning courses based on Tinto’s (1975) model by stating that distance education students are adult students with different characteristics than those who receive face-to-face education. According to this model, students with a limited educational background are less likely to develop a study approach in line with the requirements of higher education than other students. Besides, ODE students are generally employed and have family responsibilities. Accordingly, a student who can balance family, work, and social life with their studies is more likely to complete the course. In addition, the ratio of time, effort, and cost might affect the student’s decision to continue.
In Rovai’s (2003) well-known model, variables are evaluated in two stages as prior to admission and after admission. He mentioned student characteristics and skills in prior to admission stage. In the after-admission period, factors related to the student’s work and family, and economic situation are included. Rovai incorporated variables emphasized by Tinto (1975), and Bean and Metzner (1985), and highlighted student needs, learning styles, and teaching styles that were not mentioned previously.
This study is based on Rovai’s model to perform the deductive analysis of the data. For clarity purposes, explanations of some concepts are given below.
Internal factors, according to Rovai’s model, include all variables “related to education” after admission (Rovai, 2003). These factors include academic integration, social integration, accessibility, goal commitment, and institutional commitment. Tinto (1975) stated that academic integration can be measured by grade performance or intellectual development. Social integration, on the other hand, covers student interactions with the instructor, peers, and administrative staff. Rovai (2003) added accessibility to the composite persistence model considering the work of Workman and Stenard (1996), and associated accessibility with students’ access to information about the institution, educational programs, and courses, and quick e-mail correspondence. The impact of accessibility on persistence is still the subject of studies (Muljana & Luo, 2019). Student commitment to the goal can be measured in terms of educational plans, educational expectations, or career expectations. Goal commitment and institutional commitment together affect the student’s decision to drop out. Academic integration of the student contributes to the goal commitment, and social integration contributes to the institutional commitment (Tinto, 1975). In this study, it would be appropriate to explain some variables that are not mentioned in the models related to dropout/persistence in the literature but are considered as internal factors. Resources refer to any written, printed, and/or electronic material that students use to complete the course. The quality, perceived usefulness, and availability of resources ensure persistence (Li & Wong, 2019). In addition, student-content interaction in open and distance education is a recognized significant phenomenon (Anderson, 2003; Moore, 1993).
The instructor was included in Tinto’s model (1975) with reference to his/her interaction with the students; however, the characteristics of the instructor were not emphasized. As previously mentioned, the literature suggests that some qualifications of the instructor may affect the students’ dropout decisions. In this study, instructor characteristics express a multidimensional concept that includes features such as belief/prejudice towards open and distance education, the reason for teaching, caring for the lesson, digital literacy, open and distance education knowledge and experience, subject matter knowledge, and teaching method.
In the study, flexibility represents the “structure” expression that Moore (1993) stressed. Accordingly, the structure is concerned with the ability of an educational program to adapt or respond to the individual needs of students. An education program should neither make the student very comfortable by not setting any rules nor should be in a very rigid structure.
Another concept that is not encountered in the models is exams. In this study, the effect of the exams refers to factors such as availability of alternative exams (makeup exam, etc.), reliability, and validity of the exams. Exam conditions are also observed to affect student decisions (Okur et al., 2019). Aydin et al. (2019) stated that students consider open and distance education courses easy to complete, referred to as “Perceived ease of completion” in this study. The fact that the students do not want the wrong answers to eliminate the correct answers, which is one of the measures taken for reliability and validity in exams, can also be described as an easy completion expectation.
According to Rovai’s (2003) model, external factors consist of all the non-education-related variables in the process after the admission to the system. Rovai lists finance, hours of employment, family responsibilities, outside encouragement, opportunity to transfer, and life crises as external factors. In this study, the hours of employment forms a part of “Business life”. Factors such as intense or flexible work life, the mental comfort of being employed, and legal procedures related to business life.
The financial situation of the person or the amount of the required tuition fee shapes the financial reasons. Family life consists of factors such as the responsibility of children, pregnancy, and marriage. Outside encouragement is considered as either external support or obstruction in this study; because people in a student’s life (spouse, friend, parents, etc.) may not always be encouraging.
Life crises were evaluated in the same sense as Rovai’s (2003) study. Accordingly, situations such as divorce, loss of job, and sickness may cause the student to drop out of education (Tinto, 1975). Opportunity to transfer refers to the possibility of the student to transfer to a different university. If there is no better option, the probability of dropping out may decrease. Social life relates to the student's inability to devote time to his/her education due to the intense social life.
Student characteristics are considered in Rovai’s (2003) model as age, ethnicity and gender, intellectual development, academic performance, and academic preparation. In this study, personality structure, belief/preconception, self-suitability, un/consciousness, and technical equipment facilities variables were also added. In addition, study habits and goal commitment, which are under internal factors in Rovai’s model, were evaluated as student characteristics in this study.
Goal commitment includes the psychological orientations of the individual brought to the system. These orientations will determine the way the student interacts within the system (Tinto, 1975). If a student is committed to his goal, s/he will be more likely to continue education (Lee et al., 2013). Personality structure includes the characteristics of the student such as self-confidence, perfectionism, patience, perseverance, and responsibility.
Academic performance, which Rovai (2003) considered as a student characteristic, was associated with academic integration under internal reasons in this study. As a matter of fact, Tinto (1975) stated that academic integration can be measured with grade point average (GPA), as an indicator of academic performance. Academic preparation is considered as the academic background in this study, and it refers to the status of previous university experience, the status of study experience in open and distance education institutions, and the level of knowledge about the program enrolled. It is known that students’ previous experiences, such as having had the drop-out experience, affect their decision of whether to continue their studies or drop out (Aydin et al., 2019; Cochran et al., 2014).
Belief/preconception represents the student’s (usually negative) thoughts about open and distance education. Un/consciousness is about whether the student is conscious about the system and his/her program. For example, students sometimes think that an unfavorable decision taken on the national level was made only by the institution where they studied, and they may distance themselves from the institution. Finally, since open and distance education can no longer be thought of without technical equipment, students’ possession of this technical device may affect their decision to drop out.
Rovai (2003) included computer literacy, information literacy, time management, reading and writing, and computer-based interaction in student skills. In this study, computer literacy and computer-based interaction were considered as digital literacy components and they were associated with the student’s ability to use hardware and software tools at a level that would enable them to learn. The fact that students’ lack of digital competence for learning purposes may cause them to drop out (Bawa, 2016).
Time management is combined with the broader concept of self-regulation. Self-regulation in this study covers the ability of students to carry out their learning processes independently and to manage their time. Self-regulation is a variable emphasized in numerous studies (Aydin et al., 2019; Bawa, 2016; Stiller & Bachmaier, 2017) that affects students’ decision to drop out. Finally, reading and writing is a requirement for literacy and content comprehension prior to the tertiary education, reading and writing skills included in Rovai’s (2003) model were not evaluated in this study.