Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Lynne Chalmers


Cook County Higher Education (CCHE), a non-profit distance education resource center located in rural northeastern Minnesota, has student completion rates of 90% and higher. CCHE has attributed the student persistence to its external support services, such as mentoring, technology support, study skills, attitude, and financial resources. With the national call for increased degrees per capita, there is also increased incentive for higher education institutions to become more creative in offering external support services to their non-traditional distance learning students. This grounded theory method research project explored rural students' perceptions of what motivates them to persist in distance learning programs. Thick, narrative responses were drawn from a focus group with current students, and individual interviews were conducted with students who had completed or withdrawn from degree programs. My rationale was premised on the assumption that providing support resources contributes to higher retention rates. Results from this study concluded that rural distance learners need a high level of support services from the learner's institution and local community to balance the extraordinary challenges they face due to their remote location and limited access to support services, and for rural distance learners to be successful, the instructor has to take a pro-active role in supporting his or her students.