PhD in Public Policy

Paul Dexter ’15

Paul Dexter

Career

Current position: Director of Academic Retention Initiatives, University of Southern Maine

Paul began his professional career at Mid-Coast Mental Health Center in Rockland, Maine as a dual diagnosis clinician specializing in work with youth and families. He then relocated to southern Maine where he was employed as a substance abuse counselor at Day One. 

Paul’s work at the University of Southern Maine has included roles as a Coordinator of Substance Abuse Prevention as well as the Administrative Manager & Outreach Specialist for University Counseling Services. 

After serving as the Assistant Dean of Student Life, Paul established a new service department aimed at supporting students in the college transition, becoming the Director of Early Student Success. This led to the creation of a larger institutional change to student services and Paul became the Coordinator of the Student Success Center. 

Paul was then recruited by University leadership help develop a new academic support service model, co-creating USM’s Learning Commons as the Coordinator of Learning Support. 

Most recently, Paul serves in the capacity of the Director of Academic Retention Initiatives. 

He also is a lecturer in USM’s Leadership & Organizational Studies Program, as well as in USM’s master’s program in Adult & Higher Education.

Degrees:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2015
  • MSW, Salem State College, 1995
  • BS in Psychology, Saint Michael's College, 1992 

Dissertation

Title: The Influence of Engagement Upon Success and Persistence of Online Undergraduates

Abstract: Institutions of higher education, states, and government agencies are seeking avenues for increasing access, improving learning outcomes, and increasing student retention.  The majority of Chief Academic Officers polled indicate that online learning is key to the growth of their institutions, while simultaneously indicating concern that online learners are less likely to succeed and persist.  A common construct for how institutions can facilitate student success and persistence is the notion of engagement.  Since 2000, campuses have relied upon the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to guide institutional policies and practices supporting student success.  The research on the applicability of the NSSE to online learning is scarce.  This ex post facto quantitative study explored the relationship between scores on the ten NSSE Engagement Indicators and two widely-used measures of student success:  grade point average (GPA) and persistence.

The study sample was comprised of students from five public state institutions that had administered the NSSE during the 2013 and 2014 cycles.  Statistical tests were employed to examine potential differences between online and non-online learners.  A small significant difference in GPA was discovered, with online learners having a higher average GPA than non-online counterparts.  There was no significant difference in rates of persistence between these groups.  Regression analyses revealed no statistically-significant relationship between Engagement Indicator scores and either GPA or persistence.

The study findings did not support assertions in the field that online learners are less likely to succeed than non-online learners.  The findings were contrary to previous research on the role of engagement in the equation of student success and persistence.  Differences in NSSE scores between online learners and non-online learners offered evidence of how these groups may be distinct.  The study suggests the need for delineating the NSSE results based upon different groups of students, and brings into question the applicability of the engagement construct for online learners.  The need to clearly and consistently define “online” becomes a critical aspect of the discussion.  Recommendations for policy and practice are offered, including the importance of addressing attrition bias and a caution on making inferential interpretations with descriptive statistics from a survey.