STUDENT LOYALTY MAINTENANCE:

A CRITICAL ISSUE IN DISTANCE LEARNING UNIVERSITY

 

 

Mohamad Yunus

Paulina Pannen

Ojat Darojat

Siti Julaeha

 

 

Universitas Terbuka (UT) merupakan salah satu dari sepuluh universitas mega di dunia, dilihat dari jumlah mahasiswa dan cakupan kegiatan operasional.  Sebagai universitas mega, UT dituntut memberikan layanan khusus dalam mendukung proses belajar. Sebagai institusi pendidikan jarak jauh, UT menuntut mahasiswa memiliki komitmen yang tinggi untuk belajar. Kenyataannya, mahasiswa tidak memiliki kebiasaan belajar yang baik. Mahasiswa belajar hanya untuk memperoleh ijazah, ditambah lagi dengan kekurangan sumber keuangan. Untuk membantu mahasiswa, mengatasi masalah belajar, UT dalam hal ini Fakultas Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan, dengan jumlah mahasiswa terbanyak, melaksanakan program layanan khusus untuk memenuhi kebutuhan mahasiswa. Program tersebut meliputi penyapaan, pemberian surat keterangan penempuhan mata kuliah, dan tutorial remedial.

 

Kata kunci:    mahasiswa UT, masalah belajar, program layanan khusus, proses belajar.

 

 

Customer focus is increasingly essential to distance learning institutions as we endeavor to survive and prosper in a turbulent and competitive marketplace. It means that the key to achieving organizational goals is to determine the needs and wants of customers and to deliver the desired satisfactions more effectively and efficiently than competitors (Kenwey, 1995; Viljoin, 1996; McCarthy, 1998). The term of customer focus is expressed through the commonly used phrase, ďlove your customer, not your product.Ē Distance learning institutions involving in delivering educational services must design courses and educational programs with the customerís needs in mind. Contends that Ď[customer should be seen as] the fulcrum, the pivot point about which the business moves in operating the balanced interests of all concerns.í According to most marketing thinkers, customer focus-the satisfaction of customers wants-is the justification of customer loyalty.

Without exception, Universitas Terbuka (UT), The Open University of Indonesia, as the only one distance learning institution in Indonesia, has placed its customer as a critical factor. Paradigm shift is undeniable because many people still are not familiar with distance learning and demand the proof about UTís capability in educating people effectively.  This is indicated by growing of student enrolment (See Figure 1).

Since beginning, the mission of UT is to educate working adult, in-service teachers, and recent high school graduate. For its establishment, UT has had a significant growth of enrolment, achieving the peak the 500,000 students in 1997. But, the number of enrolment has been decrease to 250,000 students in 2002. Some of them also discontinue their study because of their failures in many time examinations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. UTís Student (1998 Ė 2002)

 

Source: Graph is drawn using basic data from UTícomputer center 1998- 2002.

                (FMIPA = Faculty of Mathematics and Science, FEKON = Faculty of Economic, FISIP = Faculty of Social and Opilitcal Science, FKIP = Faculty of Education)

 

Actually, the declining trend of enrolment may be influenced by economic crisis since 1997 that have affected many individuals and local government is provision on sponsorship. But, the situation also reflects the seriousness of UT in serving and sustaining students by the various support exertions including customer loyalty maintenance.

The importance of student loyalty maintenance at UT, especially in Faculty of Education (FEd) as the largest faculty, can also be viewed by increasing number of non active students (this term a slightly different with the so-called drop out student) and active students facing academic problems. Based on statistic, in 2002, since 1986 to 2002, FEd has graduated about 493,000 students. But, on the same time, there are almost 76,000 students who are classified as non active students and 58,000 students that have academic problems.

These high rate of non active students and students with academic problems pose a challenge for FEd to develop an effective service or support to help students in their studies. We can argue that the lack of customer loyalty maintenance is one contributor of it. Of course, student loyalty is not solely a function of student maintenance. Loyalty depends also on the quality of course materials, personal attribute, psycho-social aspects, and institutional policies. In addition, it could be argued that the justification of student loyalty maintenance is to aid student retention.

This article investigates customer loyalty issues based on empirical experiences of FEd, UT. In addition, some relevant theories in the area of customer loyalty maintenance role for open learning institutions, and the management of student service are discussed as underlying principles to ensure the survival of open education institutions.

 

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

 

Much has been written about customer, customer service, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty. Customer is a person or unit receives or gets benefits from the output of a process of a system.  Customers buy more than a set of physical attribute. They buy what the product/service does, quality, and image of owning the product. On the other hand, customer satisfaction is when the products, services, or brands delivered to customer met her/his approval, need, want, and expectation. Customer expectations frequently are based on information provided by the sales person, past experience, word of mouth, and personal needs. To understand customer satisfaction, the organization must look deeper into the level of satisfaction: lower, higher, and highest to their expectations. It is a continuum. Unlike many behaviors, satisfaction does not follow a bell curve, but instead skewed (see Figure 2).

Figure 1 illustrates one way of setting priorities is fixing problems. This addresses customer on the left pick attributes that are both high in importance and low in satisfaction (the first bullet above). Another way of setting priorities is differentiation of the product by creating competitive advantages. This involves giving customers some good reasons some differentiation. Analyze the lost customer (switching analysis) to see where the greatest opportunity lies (Survey Value Inc.,  2003).

 

Satisfaction

 


 


Figure 2. Satisfaction

 

The focus customer service and satisfaction is to build loyalty, either loyalty behavior or loyalty attitudes that is very difficult for another seller to get the business. Loyalty behavior, called also customer retention, means the act of customers making repeat purchases of their current product/service/brand, rather than choosing the other competitor. Loyalty attitudes are those judgments and feelings about certain product, service, or brand associated with repeat purchases. Anyway, loyalty behavior is just the result of very high satisfaction. What has to be worked on and improved is satisfaction. As customers become more satisfied they start to take on some loyalty attitudes.

In creating service programs, the first step understands the customer background and expectation. Concerned to distance learning student, it means the institution have to be able to answer the question, ďWho are your students and what do they need? What does any one need to become a successful student in distance learning?  The answer guides the service program will be carried out. Of course, the institution capability should be considered to make the program able to be implemented.

To learn successfully in a distance learning, students must possess a certain characteristics. According to the constructivist models, for example, learners must be motivated to control their own learning,  have exercise self-regulatory skills that will keep them focus on learning, and reading habit and skills in mastering learning materials and any relevant information. Skill in self-regulation deals with self-discipline (especially in reading, doing tasks, and time management) and met cognitive skills such as self-monitoring and the ability to learn mindfully (Salas, et. al., 2002; McLoughin, 2002; Data and Macdonald-Ross, 2002).  Schmidt and Ford (2001) find that individuals with strong the metacognitive skills benefited the most in learner control environment because they knew how to monitor and regulate their learning, they could make better decisions about where  to direct their attention. Study of Fjortoft (1995) indicated that an internal desire for more satisfaction and challenge in oneís carrier mobility motivated adults to continue their education.

A learnerís individual characteristic can affect learning outcome, but not all learning occurs in solitude. According to learning theories, interaction with the others (tutor, students, and institution) also influences their learning. Greeting, counseling, tutorial, and feedback, are needed to enhance their motivation in the study.

Using ethnographic procedures, Garland (1993) identified barriers to persistence in distance education. They are poor learning environment (lack support from family and peers), lack of time (student felt  the course took  more time than anticipated, especially many were juggling the demand of work, home, and school), cost, institutional procedures, and course scheduling. While, according to Simonson, et.al (2003) the largest number of barriers to persistence related to psychological and sociological nature of the student. The barriers included uncertainty of an educational or professional goals, stress of multiple roles (home, work, and school), time management problems, learning style difference, and adult pride indicated by overachievement and/or fear or failure. In South Dakota (Simonson, 2003), a recent series of focus groups of teachers revealed the following reasons why they were reluctant  to involved in distance educational: fear, training time, and changes needed. These indicate the following impediments to implementing distance education in schools were need for training, need for and lack of support, time needed, and fear of the process, scheduling problems, and technical problems.

Research conducted by Kadarko (2002) pointed out that culturally  UTís student are not  ready to adapt and anticipate change of  autonomous learning  from (1)  instructor-dependent  to independent learning, (2)  face-to-face learning  to  distance learning, (3) oral courses to written  courses, and (4) learning environment change from campus-based study to home-based study.  The investigation of the students failure facing comprehensive examination found that lack of reading habits and skills, and time management (all of   students have been working  as a teacher) affect their learning outcome in study at UT (Yunus, 1996).

To overcome student difficulties in their studies in distance learning, the organization needs to give them support.  Simpson (2000) classified student supports two divisions. The first is academic support which deals with the cognitive, intellectual, and knowledge issues of specific courses or sets of courses. This consists of defining academic territory, explaining concepts, exploring the course, feedback of both informal and formal assessment, developing learning skills (numeracy and literacy), chasing progress, and enrichment (extending the boundaries of the course and sharing the excitement of learning). The second is non academic support which deals with the affective and organizational aspects of their studies. This includes advising (giving information, exploring problems, and suggesting decisions), assessment (giving feedback to the individual on non academic aptitudes and skills), action (practical help to promote study), advocacy (making out of a case for funding, writing a reference), agitation (promoting changes within the institution to benefits students), and administration (organizing student support).

 

ISSUES ON STUDENT LOYALTY MAINTENANCE AT UT

 

UT is the 45th state university and the only university using distance system in Indonesia, the worldís largest archipelago with sizeable population and comprising of over 13,000 islands. It was inaugurated by President Soeharto, on September 4, 1984. UT is established with a mission of providing wider and equal opportunity of access into higher education to all people throughout Indonesia who otherwise would not able to attend conventional universities. Particularly, UT is founded by Indonesian government in order to provide (a) higher education to high school graduate, (2) second chance of higher education to adults, and (3) in service training to primary and secondary practicing teachers.

Having a number of strengths as distance learning system, UT is able to admit a huge number of students (see Figure). The most significant UTís student number was in 1997 for almost 500.000 students. Unfortunately, the growth of UTís student number was not in line with customer loyalty maintenance. Customer loyalty programs are carried out in sporadic way. There are no systematic nor systemic approaches to interact and communicate with students. It had impacting significantly on the continuous down turn of student in the year after. The following discussion elaborates some critical issues dealing with academic and administrative programs provided by UT in relation to student loyalty.

There are many various academic programs carried out by management; such as course development, program delivery (face to face interaction, online learning, and the use of other high way technologies). UT has co-operated with well-known academic staffs from mostly other public universities to develop a high quality of course materials (modules). A number  of course materials has been supplemented by non-printed learning materials. In addition to delivery by means of printed materials, UT broadcast its programs through radio and television programs. The broadcast programs have been carried out to serve students throughout Indonesia especially in remote villages.

There are many academic problems come into management although UT has put a lot of energies and resources to improve the quality of academic materials. The problems include the quality of the contents, which inadequate analyses of the topics presented, inappropriate written and poor quality of printing and design. Some of these predicaments have a significant impact on student retention and loyalty. Dealing with this Simpson (2000) argues that ďRetention depends also on a course structure and contentÖIndeed it could be argued that retention is much more influenced by coursesÖ.Ē

As an open learning institution, UT realizes that networking plays crucial role to support the implementation of UT programs and to provide a balance between program offering and student services. In this term, the internet computer system has been provided placed as the key role in handling bulk administrative activities. In this regards, UT has built a number of a specific system in terms of registration, academic records, course material developments, examination process, and internet program offering. Such computerize programs are fostered not only for academic and administrative purposes but also for student loyalty maintenance. Internet computers provide valuable educational tolls for UT and students. By building internet program, UT can show its vision, mission, and other identifying features. In addition, Internet is a vital role for mutual communication between UT and its students where ever they are.

Antagonistic to the advantages of using computer-based programs, there are some problems face in utilizing them such as access, quality, and effectiveness. The issue of access is very important aspect in developing countries like Indonesia. Mostly UTís students are middle class people who tend to place networked personal computer as a non priority demand. In addition to this, the public infrastructure of high way telecommunication network in remote areas is very difficult to access. Clearly, the implementation of advanced technology, to some extent, is against disadvantaged students entering this service. Moreover, there has been a criticism of employing online learning system that has occasionally been of poor quality control since anyone able to set up online learning content. The lack of control mechanism of online learning content will generates a perception that  quality of online learning contents are in doubt   Furthermore, in terms of effectiveness, the usage of online services is still in question since UTís student doesnít have requirements skills to be involved in this technology. Up to now, there are very little institutional support and no systematic approach to help students to be able to access this service.

 

STRATEGY IN MAINTAINING OF STUDENTíS LOYALTY 

 

Talking about student service and/or satisfaction related to creativity.  Creativity allows us to handle or diffuse the problems at hand or later in the process of conducting everyday business. We talk about how or rather what UT has to do to gain not only the new student, but also to maintain the loyalty of the student. We want to know if the student is delighted and willing to continue their studies in UT.

To serve the students well, of course, we can not rooms to studentsí complaint. We should know what the students want and expect, to enable them to finish their studies successfully. We must do something before they ask. Thus, to create good services we can gather the information. It is not only by their complaints, but also by observing and analyzing their examination results, willingness to continuously registering on every semester, and the student accusations revealed by faced to faced communication, letter, phone, and E-mail.

Based on those ideas, UT should come to the students before they come to UT. This means, we collect data about student problems and create programs to help them in solving their study problems.  In the other words, to satisfy student as UTís customers we try to meet their customer needs and expectation, and serve more than expected.

UT especially the Faculty of Education (FEd) conducts the service programs which are focused to non-active students and active students with learning problems. Non-active students are students who did not register more than four semesters. While, active students with the academic problems are the students who register  within four semesters, but they have lower GPA (less than 2,00), fail in examination for more than two times of one or some courses, and do not finish the study on the time.

All of FEdís students are teachers who have been working as a teacher in elementary school, secondary school, and high school.  They can be categorized as a regular students program and non regular students program. Regular programs are the students taking the junior secondary and high school teacherís programs. They commonly funded study with their money. Non-regular students program are the students taking the elementary school teacherís program that the study commonly funded by local or central government.

There are three strategies to assist students being able to facing learning problems, i.e. greeting, certification, and remedial tutorial.

 

Greeting

Greeting is giving information, exploring problems, and suggesting directions.  Informing is the process of giving accurate, timely, and appropriate information to students about any aspects of their studies. Exploring means the process in helping students to find out or understand their academic or non-academic problems that impact to achieving study. Direction is process to assist students to find out the solution for their study problems and make an appropriate decision in improving and continuing their studies.

In distance learning, greeting is very important to touch the students in arousing enthusiasm and motivation. By her research review, Robinson (Lockwood, 1994) concluded that learnerĖinstitution contact appears to have a positive effect on learner performance and persistence rates. It can help students to minimized isolated feeling and difficulties in their studies. In conventional university, this is not an important issue. Students can share their problems with the teacher, counselor, colleague, and social community directly. While in distance learning, they need to be more independent and proactive. Based on my observation, a part of the students in Faculty of Education, UT, tend to be passive. Students Services Unit on FEd reported just about 850 students for two months who consulted (by mail, e-mail, and phone) their problems.

In 2002, FEd sent a letter greeting to 13,850 active students with the academic problems, 4,000 students who will face comprehensive examination, and 22,750 non-active students. It informed achievement of their studies, problems, solution, and suggestion in improving and continuing their studies. For the students who have examination failure more than three times, it enclosed the special assignment like take home exam. Greeting is really takes time. The academic staff should analyze academic record of each student and write down it to the greeting. But, this way must be conducted to assist students facing study problems.

Almost all of the students who sent greeting and assignment return the answer.  Students accept feedback from academic staff if their answer do not achieve to minimum passing requirement. This process will be continuo until they can answer well. Finally, by giving additional assignment and continuous feedback, students can be aid to passing the final and comprehensive examination.

While, the greetings addressed to non active students and students with the academicals problem, just 2,472 students who respond. Part of them (non-active students) conveyed that they would like to continue their studies. And the others expressed their happiness accepted the greetings. Some of them said that they feel finished the study sooner if FEd UT does greetings earlier and regularly. About 190 student responses stated to discontinue their studies.

Compared with the number of greetings, the students respond it is very low. It may cause they just kept in mind and obey the suggestion quietly. However, the student numbers who passed out the examination and graduation are increasing. Some of greeting may not be received by them because of the limitation of post distribution to reach their location in the remote areas. Or, they decide to end the study, so they do not need to reply the greeting.

According to the student responses, the greeting has been insight for FEd how useful it is to help students.  Simpson (2000) and Salas, Ed. al., (2002) argue that touching and feedback can increase motivation and improve student learning. 

 

Certification

Frequently, distance learning has been associated with high drop out rates (at least compared to conventional institution).  In a survey of 3,000 students, found a 21 per cent drop out rate by the end of  term followed by a massive 58 per cent failing re-enroll subsequently. It can be understood because there is no entrance test for everybody who will take study in distance learning. This can affect to the high drop out rate. The high drop out rate in distance learning could also be caused by their incapability in learning that demands high commitment of energy, funding, time, and changing of learning habit, and to be autonomous learner because of being separated among student, teacher, and institution.

Actually, UT did not recognize drop out student. In UTís term, there is a non-active student, i.e. student who does not register more than four semesters. Their data still is recorded until they declare to stop the study and ask certification. That why, the students also can activate their study status anytime when they ready to recontinue. There are some reasons make them become non-active students. Based on observation, they may be caused by getting close to retirement, getting older, have been graduated from the highest program that taken in other higher education institution, or frustration because they will never graduated.

Since 1986 to 2002, FEd UT has 58,000 non active students. This is really the idle students. The students data are always shown on every semester. They have become a psychological burden for UT. To overcome these, since 2000, FEd UT provides certificate of undertaking some courses for those students who choose to discontinue their studies. But, the courses can be accredited into a program of study when they think they would like to recontinue the study later.  Some of students who accepted the certificate conveyed to extend the study.

Certification looks as a simple one. Of course, it really takes time. But, for the students, it gives them insight about ending of their studies, helping of the hopeless, and simultaneously giving a chance to continue the study.  While for UT, certification is moral obligation to serve and settle a kind of the idle students.

 

Remedial Tutorial

As explained before, according to mastery learning and constructivism theory, students who have learning difficulties can be assisted by appropriate scaffolding. Inspired by the theory, UT creates remedial tutorial program. But, this program is considerably expensive because UT should provide learning materials, face-to-face tutorial, special assignment, and examination for each student, also design   a system that supports the program.

Funded by central government, that ideas can be realized in 2002. On the first year, this program is prepared for 42.782 active students of elementary school teacher program (Diploma II) at FEd who can not finish study more than five semesters. They are allowed to finish the study for two semesters with a government finance.

Actually, it is hard to carry out the remedial tutorial program. How to disseminate and implement the program for the student who spread all over throughout Indonesia? To disseminate program, UT invited all of the Head of UTís Regional Center and Head of Province Educational Department. Furthermore, the program dissemination is carried out by them to the students in their areas. Simultaneously, UT sent information to the students by letter and also announced by radio and local newspaper.  To prepare tutor, UT delivers trainings followed by senior tutors. Then, they are asked to share what they have acquired from the training to other tutors who can not participate in the training.

At the end of the first semester in 2002, there are just about 31,000 students who took examThe other students  may   not receive information of  the program that announced by UT. To fulfill the target, UT conducts re-recruitment for the next semester.  Finally, at the end of 2002, from 42,782 students have been followed remedial tutorial program can be graduated 31,611 students. It is amazing. The program has proven to beneficial to students facing learning difficulties to complete the study.

However, there are 11,621 students fail to finish the study. Based on the evaluation, many factors cause their failures.  The first, some of the students presumed that this program will automatically guarantee the completion of the study. They attended the tutorial unseriously. They read course material and did assignment just as they like. The second, information of the tutorial remedial program did not reach to them. The last, assignment grades that contribute about 40 to 60 per cent to the end score of course come later after the deadline for graduation.

Based on the result, the government funds another program for 2003. On this year, the programís participation is 42,826 elementary school teacherís program. But, the result can not be detected yet because of still in process.

Finally, many programs conducted to maintain student retention are very useful to assist students in following study at UT. The programs such as greeting, certification, and remedial tutorial will be continued with some improvements. But, the programs are not comprehensive yet.  Those are just carried out when the students have trouble in the study. Thus, it is highly necessary to consider a creation of continues program that enables students to be familiar and ready to study at distance learning. It will be better if the students are supplied by information and characteristics about UT, strategy of success study, reading skill, and skill to use relevant technology that supports their studies. This program is preferable provided on the beginning of the study at UT.

 

REFERENCES

 

Data, S. & McDonald-Ross, M. (2002). Reading skills and reading habits:  A Study of new open university undergraduate reserves, Open Learning, Vol. 17, No. 1.

Fjortoft, N.F. (1995). Predicting persistence in distance learning programs. (ERIC DRS    No. ED387620). 

Futrell, C.M. (2002). Fundamentals of selling: Customers for life. Seventh Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Garland, M.R. (1993). Student perceptions of the situational, institutional, dispositional, and epistemological barriers to persistence, Distance Education, 14 (2).

Kadarko, W. (2002). Kemampuan belajar mandiri dan faktor-faktor psikososial yang mempengaruhinya: Kasus Universitas Terbuka, Jurnal Pendidikan Terbuka dan        Jarak Jauh, Vol. 1.1.

Kenway, J. (1995) Marketing education: Some critical issues. Victoria: Deakin University Press.

McCarthy, E J. et Al. (1998) Basic Marketing: Managerial approach. 2nd ed. Sidney: McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia Pty Limited.

McLoughlin, C. (2002). Learner support in distance and networked learning environ          ments: Ten dimensions for successful design, Distance Education, Vol. 23, No. 2.

Salas, E., et.al. (2002). Emerging themes in distance learning research and practice: Some food for thought, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 4, 2.

Schmidt, A.M. and Ford, J.K. (2001). Promoting active learning through metacognitive      instruction. Paper  presented  at the 16th Annual Convention of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diegeo, Ca, April.

Simpson, O. (2000). Supporting students in open and distance learning. London: Kogan Page.

Simonson, M., et. al. (2003). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of       Distance Learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Survey Value Inc. (2003). http://www.survey

Viljoin, J. (1996). Strategic management: Planning and implementing successful corporate strategies. 2nd ed. Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty             Limited.

Yunus, M. (1996). Evaluasi Keberhasilan Ujian Komprehensif Tertulis mahasiswa FKIP- UT. Laporan penelitian.