Date of Award



© 2020 Henry T. James

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Marylin Newell

Second Advisor

Gizelle Luevano

Third Advisor

Barbara Tucker


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the phenomenon of nontraditional students in online competency-based education (CBE) degree programs taking enrollment breaks known as “stop-outs” between college semesters or terms. Online programs and CBE programs have grown at a pace commensurate with the increased enrollment of working adults or other nontraditional college students. At the same time, stop-out and attrition rates for online programs and nontraditional students have been significantly higher than for traditional postsecondary education models. A review of existing literature exposed a gap in understanding the factors related to stop-outs for nontraditional students in online CBE degree programs. The researcher applied a theoretical perspective based on the self-determination theory of student persistence to add to the body of knowledge about the stop-out phenomenon. The researcher utilized surveys and interviews to collect and analyze data from current or former students that stopped out of online CBE degree programs to explore the phenomenon from the perspectives of their lived experiences. The researcher found that nontraditional stop-outs were influenced by external factors more than the online CBE environment.


Ed.D. Dissertation