Online and hybrid course enrollment and performance in Washington St community and technical colleges (2004-09)

Researchers from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) tracked more than 50,000 students in Washington state community and technical colleges from fall 2004 through spring 2009. They found that, in general, students who worked more hours and were more academically prepared were more likely to take an online class. Online courses also were significantly more popular among students who were female, white, fluent in English, transfer-oriented, eligible for financial aid, had never enrolled in remedial education or were older than 25 when they entered college.

The report shows a gap between success rates for online and traditional courses. Face-to-face classes had a success rate of 67 percent – 10 percentage points higher than the rate for distance education courses. ****Update: In a similar study, Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC) has seen successful results from its learner analytics program – Online course completion rates of at-risk students have increased by 9 percent over the past five years: ****

A survey of more than 9,000 California community college students who had withdrawn from distance education courses indicated that the top reason for dropping was a personal challenge related to their family, health, job or child care. About 30 percent said they couldn’t handle the combination of study and work duties, while another 30 percent said they had fallen behind and it was hard to catch up.

The CCRC report recommends that colleges do more to improve student learning in online formats. For one, the study suggests requiring that before students can sign up for an online class, they take an assessment on whether online learning is a good fit for them. The report said colleges and universities were too “passive” in providing help for students who take all their classes on the internet. Additionally, the researchers urged campus decision makers to be more proactive in providing student and faculty supports. Students who took entirely-online classes often struggled with “technical difficulties” and “a sense of social distance and isolation” as they completed coursework from home. Online students also lacked the academic support traditional students receive on campus, but the researchers added that hybrid classes (combines the two types of learning settings) could be an answer for bridging the completion rate gap.

It is interesting that this study focuses mainly on completion rates of online/hybrid courses (in comparison to traditional courses), especially with the survey for students who had withdrawn from those courses. I agree with the recommendation for an assessment to determine whether online learning is a good fit for students. If you look at the factors for why the online students withdrew, it appears that their circumstances would have likely contributed to withdrawing from traditional classes too, especially given that “students who worked more hours and were more academically prepared were more likely to take an online class” in the first place. Furthermore, it appears that online learning was likely their only option given their profile. It would have been interesting to survey students who completed courses (in addition to those who withdrew) to formulate a baseline to support this latter position.