Teachers College, Columbia University

Online Education

Online Education

Just under 37% of public two-year college students, about two million students, took at least one distance education course in fall 2019. Fifteen percent of public two-year college students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. The percentage of students who take distance education courses had been growing steadily and jumped in fall 2020.

A CCRC study of Washington State community and technical college students found that completion rates in online courses were 5.5 percentage points lower than those in face-to-face courses. Among students who ever enrolled in an online course, the completion rate for online courses was 8.2 percentage points lower than the completion rate for face-to-face courses; completion rates for online English and math courses were lower by 12.8% and 9.8%, respectively. Students who took higher proportions of online courses were slightly less likely to attain a degree or transfer to a four-year college.

A CCRC study of Virginia Community College System students found that the online course completion rate was 12.7 percentage points lower than the face-to-face completion rate. Among students who had taken at least one online course, online completion rates were 14.7 percentage points lower for all courses, 16.1 percentage points lower for English courses, and 18.7 percentage points lower for math courses. Among this subset of students, the completion rate for online developmental English was 22.3 percentage points lower, and the completion rate for online developmental math was 22.1 percentage points lower.

A 2019 review of studies of online learning found that while online courses can improve access to education, semester-length online courses are associated with negative effects on student course performance, course persistence, and other outcomes. Research suggests that community college students in online courses are between 3% and 15% more likely to withdraw than similar students in face-to-face classes.

For more resources, visit the Online Learning Research Center at the University of California, Irvine.

A CCRC study found that while all community college students show a reduction in performance in fully online courses, some students show a steeper decline than others, including male students, students with lower GPAs, and Black students. The performance gaps that exist among these subgroups in face-to-face courses become more pronounced in fully online courses. For instance, lower performing students (< 3.02 GPA) are 2% more likely to drop out of face-to-face courses than higher performing students (> 3.02 GPA). In online courses, lower performing students are 4% more likely to drop out. Black students overall receive a 0.3 point lower grade than White students in face-to-face courses (2.7 vs. 3.0 GPA). In fully online courses, they receive a 0.6 point lower grade (2.2 vs. 2.8 GPA).

CCRC data viz

CCRC's data visualizations offer an interactive way to explore trends in community college outcomes.

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