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A Phenomenological Study of Student Engagement at a For-Profit, Online College

, Northcentral University, United States

Northcentral University . Awarded


As college enrollment continues to increase, there is greater need to understand how students remain engaged in their courses and throughout their program. Colleges are investing financial and human resources on understanding how student engagement initiatives impact retention and completion efforts, yet little research has been conducted on student engagement through the viewpoint of the student. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the lived experiences of first-year college students striving towards engagement at for-profit, online colleges. A transcendental phenomenological approach was used to understand the phenomenon of lived experiences of first-year college students. A purposeful sample consisted of 10 first-year college students enrolled at a for-profit, online college. Data were collected through nine telephone interviews and one written response using predetermined, semi-structured questions as a guideline. Transcripts of the interviews were analyzed to gain an understanding of the data as a whole, while key words, phrases and statements were analyzed to develop a more precise understanding of the lived experiences of participants. From the analysis of the rich data collected, five invariant constituents or themes were identified: (a) heightened sense of satisfaction, (b) active learning environment, (c) low locus of control, (d) improved sense of self-efficacy, and (e) goal awareness and alignment. This study will add to the current literature on student engagement and add a new perspective for students attending for-profit, online institutions. Data gleaned from this study will assist administrators, instructors and staff members within higher education institutions assist first-year students. Future research on student engagement is needed for for-profit institutions. A recommendation for future research is to replicate this study using a larger, more diversified sample size, and collecting perspectives from students attending different online, for-profit institutions. Future additional phenomenological research should focus on first-year students attending state and traditional colleges; moreover, additional student engagement research is warranted for students beyond their first year of college. Limitations in this study are its use of a relatively small sample number, limited diversity of participants, and the fact that participants were from one online, for-profit institution.


Alward, T.S. A Phenomenological Study of Student Engagement at a For-Profit, Online College. Ph.D. thesis, Northcentral University. Retrieved April 20, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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