Predictors of student success in an online master of public health degree program
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In the U.S., the growth of students taking online courses has outpaced the growth of the overall higher education student body as illustrated in a 2014 report by Allen and Seaman. Master of public health (MPH) programs that are delivered fully (or partially) online provide an opportunity for public health professionals who do not have formal training–and who cannot leave their job–to get the academic training and credential that is needed to do their jobs effectively. Using the Composite Persistence Model by Rovai, this mixed methods study examined predictors of student success in a distance-learning MPH program. The research questions included were a) What are the predictors of student success in an online hybrid program of study, where success is defined by students’ program standing? and b) What were the experiences of students with good and bad program standing? Key findings from the regression analysis indicate that those who were more likely to be in good standing were female, white/Asian, Applied Epidemiology majors, enrolled fulltime, or began the program in fall 2012. Additionally, for every unit of increase in GPA at the fifth semester, the probability of being in good standing increased 12%. To further understand the experiences of students, 19 semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants from four groups (successful predictors – good standing, successful predictors – bad standing, upward achievement cases, downward achievement cases). An examination of the interview data suggests that five factors appear to distinguish the interview groups: a) alignment between program expectations and experience, b) support from place of employment, c) finances, d) experience at on-campus sessions, and e) alignment between learning and teaching styles. A version of Rovai’s model–revised for a professional graduate population–is presented. Recommendations for practice and areas of future research are also included. A better understanding of the student experience, allows institutions of higher education–including schools and programs of public health–to target those individuals who are more likely to succeed; and provide resources to those students who have enrolled but are at risk for not completing their programs of study.