Study Goals: To determine factors that influence MSW students, in a distance learning program conducted by a state-supported university, to discontinue the program prior to completing degree requirements. To investigate whether discontinuation reasons are idiosyncratic or if there are patterns that might be addressed by program administrators to enhance completion rates. Hypothesis: A set, or sets, of common factors for discontinuation will be found among distance learning students voluntarily leaving a MSW program prior to completing degree requirements. Completion vs. non-completion of a distance MSW program. Because the program being studied is cohort-based, non-completion is operationally defined as ceasing attendance for one academic quarter without a formal plan to complete substitute credits, or ceasing attendance for 2 or more consecutive academic quarters regardless of plan.
[...] (For our purposes, “stop attending” means you missed 1 quarter without a formal plan to make up missed credits or you did not attend for 2 or more consecutive quarters regardless of plan.) What factors not addressed above, if any, do you believe, would better enable you to complete the MSW program? The survey questions contained in the email were developed directly from the Research Questions suggested by the literature review. No existing instrument was found that was suitable to assess the areas of interest so this series of open-ended questions was developed by the investigator specifically for this study. [...]
[...] The email survey sent to participants read as follows: From: Diane McRae To: Participant Date: Today's Date Subject: MSW Completion Factors Study Hello! Thank you again for agreeing to participate in this study. This is survey # ( or of 3. When the results are tabulated, we hope to be able to make suggestions to the School of Social Work for ways to help make students more likely to complete your MSW program. Surveys are sent to participating students at the beginning, mid-point and end of your program. [...]
[...] The list of students obtained from the School of Social Work and the in-person meeting with the investigator at the beginning of each cohort verifies that only actual cohort members are admitted to the study. This does not eliminate the possibility that a participant might ask another person to complete their survey for them. While this type of misrepresentation is a danger in telephone and conventional mail surveys as well, and a could even appear for an in-person interview, the risk is minimal in this scenario. [...]
[...] Email-based surveys are commonly used by commercial enterprises to gather information from consumers regarding everything from grocery buying habits to political opinions to usage of incontinence products. Medical and social services are beginning to follow with professional consultation available by email in a few areas of the United States. By 1998 the practice had become common enough to warrant a cautionary letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (Pies, 1998). A review of the role of computer technology use in health care (Flatley Brennan & Strombom, 1998) states that “Computer-based elicitation and reporting tools are proving acceptable to patients and clinicians alike.” Email communication has been described as having increased convenience in time and space for both parties, being useful for increasing both access and information sharing, having the potential for increased reporting of unpleasant events, and providing a more egalitarian means of communication as cues of rank are absent (Car & Sheikh, 2004). [...]
[...] A list of students was provided by the School of Social Work at the beginning of attendance for each included cohort so the investigator could verify that participants were in fact members of the cohort, determine participation rates, and track participating students who transferred or withdrew from the program prior to completion. Students enrolled in the main campus MSW program, either part-time or full- time, were excluded from this study as the focus was on students attending classes at a distance from the main campus with its community of concentrated resources and supportive services. [...]
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