Quality in distance education: Student support services and their role in student satisfaction

Isabel Nohemi Vallejo, University of Texas at El Paso


Distance education is expanding at a rapid pace in higher education institutions both in the United States and in the rest of the world. Of special concern among higher education practitioners is the question of how to assure quality in distance education programs. This concern has in turn promulgated a vast amount of research and has fostered considerable debate about the advantages and disadvantages of distance education. ^ This dissertation study presented: (1) an exploration of student support services that distance learners receive at a major research university, and (2) how these services effect student satisfaction with a distance education program offered there. The study was framed under the Engagement Theory of Quality that was developed based on the idea that high quality programs provide students with enriching and positive learning experiences that lead to growth and development (Haworth & Conrad, 1997). ^ The results in this study show that the student support services available for distance learners in the program under study are quite comprehensive and varied. Students are provided with academic, administrative, and technical support that helps them to succeed in their studies. Students tended to express their satisfaction in terms of certain services they found more useful for their studies. The student support services available in this distance education program contribute to creating a quality learning environment as described by the Engagement Theory of Quality. However, the conditions under which it is developed are different. The characteristics of distance education have a great influence in the way that interaction and communication take place and derive in a different learning dynamic. ^ The results in this study showed three major implications for distance education practice. First, students' characteristics and motivation play an important role in student satisfaction and success. Students at different levels can be expected to have different needs and skills. Practitioners not only need to be aware of these different needs, but also have the responsibility to help and support all students through their distance education experience. ^ Second, in distance education as in traditional education, establishing and maintaining quality programs depends on people's investment of time in the provision of services to students and other stakeholders. ^ Third, in order to have a theory of quality for distance education, it is important to take into account the unique characteristics of distance education. The study of quality in distance education cannot continue to rely on the characteristics and experience of traditional education. Since the differences between traditional and distance education are evident, it is important to start creating a theory of quality for distance education that embodies its inherent characteristics. ^

Subject Area

Education, Technology of|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Vallejo, Isabel Nohemi, "Quality in distance education: Student support services and their role in student satisfaction" (2001). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3025468.