Accountability in Educational Dialogue on Attrition Rates: Understanding External Attrition Factors and Isolation in Online Law School

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



academic success programs


Australian higher education institutions have focused on attrition rates with increased vigour in light of the introduction of a new student success metric tied to attrition rates. Online programs have been of particular concern given persistently high attrition rates, being roughly double that of programs delivered either face-to-face or in blended online/face-to-face mode. This study considers attrition theory as it has evolved for the online environment with particular reference to the role of external risk factors such as employment, and internal factors, such as social integration. The study presents data from a 2018 survey of students enrolled in a fully online law school program at an Australian university (n = 203). The data reveals a cohort with an array of external attrition risk factors, who are not only time poor but experience a strong sense of isolation. The study contributes to the attrition literature by providing insights into effective educational design and delivery aimed at student retention.

Implications for practice or policy

  • Online program convenors ought to consider the attrition risk factors at issue in their cohort before designing comprehensive retention initiatives and plans.
  • Instructors ought to consider external attrition factors, such as family and employment demands, when selecting and designing student assessments.
  • Instructors ought to realistically appraise retention initiatives, such as social media initiatives, to address internal risk factors of perceived isolation and institutional commitment.