Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Katherine Garlough


Researchers have found low online course completion rates to be a complex problem in higher education. Meanwhile, theory on adult learners' online persistence highlights the importance of a sense of school community. At the small, rural focus community college (FCC) for this study, general education online course completion rates are lower than the national average. FCC has not addressed the low online course completion rates. Using Rovais' composite persistence model as the conceptual framework, this instrumental case study examined how students' experiences and perceptions of a sense of school community contribute to their ability to complete online general education courses. Semistructured interview data were gathered with a purposeful, criterion-based, sample of 9 adult online students taking online general education courses. The inductive data analysis utilized case and cross-case analysis, marking, cutting, and sorting of text until 4 themes emerged: interaction, sense of belonging, support, and educational values. The results led to a white paper recommending an orientation and community space, asynchronous video technology, and an online curriculum instructional designer. This study contributes to positive social change by providing FCC with program and policy change recommendations that support the colleges' goals of increasing access and success. Increased educational access and success for the local adult population creates informed citizens, contributes to economic growth, and provides a higher quality of life for the community.