Online Attrition at a Community College in Rural Appalachia: A Phenomenological Approach

Victoria Sue Ratliff

Document Type Article

Abstract

The education attainment level of residents in rural Appalachia has consistently ranked below the remaining populous of the United States. Although distance education initiatives have attempted to bridge the disparities between rural Appalachia and the rest of the nation, online community college students in this region are likely to drop out or fail their classes. To understand the phenomenon of online attrition in rural Appalachia, a phenomenological study was conducted to determine what students experienced from the time they chose to enroll in online classes through the point of failure or withdrawal from their courses. This triangulated study utilized surveys, focus group sessions, and individual interviews to determine how the participants' perceptions and emotional responses developed, changed and lead to their dropping out or failing an online course, as well as how the students' social or cultural values influenced their online class experiences. An analysis of this study's data indicated that factors contributing to the participants' lack of success or attrition in online classes related to the social integration model crafted by Tinto and external factors indicated by Bean and Metzner. This study provided an opportunity to advance these models by considering the unique cultural aspects of an institution and its service region. As indicated by this study, the online experiences of students in rural Appalachia were directed impacted by their familial connections, their sense of self-reliance or personal independence, and a general distrust of "outsiders."