Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Heting Chu


Online education has been gaining popularity thanks to the advent of the Internet. There has been success in providing online education to many students who otherwise would not have had access to higher education. However, many students were dropping out of the online program. In addition, only a few studies have looked at this phenomenon closely and intensively for the purely online students. The current study was therefore initiated to not only find the manifest factors of persistence that apply to online students in degree-granting institutions, but also to discover latent structures and linkages among those factors. The study is unique and vigorous in that it used two methods of data collection and two methods of data analysis. The data collection methods were content analysis and questionnaire, and the two data analysis methods were qualitative and quantitative techniques. A content analysis of over 500 research studies was performed to identify the factors that affect student persistence from the body of literature. The factors were submitted in a survey to faculty members who teach online courses, with a request for comments and/or addition to the list. The resulting list from the two data collection methods was then used in a survey of online students to determine what factors were important to them for persisting in the online program. Qualitative analysis of data was conducted through open coding with the help of a content analysis software. Quantitative analyses were performed which included descriptive statistics as well as three multivariate techniques (i.e., factor analysis, cluster analysis, and multi-dimensional scaling). The latent structure discovered in the study categorized the factors into four groups, namely, personal commitment, social support, institutional commitment and academic confidence. The findings of the study have significant pedagogical, technical, and administrative implications for online education. In pedagogy, the factors found in academic confidence and institutional commitment can be used to enhance persistence-promoting programs, courses, and projects. Implications in technology come from the institutional commitment factors that can be applied to HCI, user experience, and the development of supporting devices and applications. The administration of online education can benefit from factors in personal commitment and social support.