Using a large administrative dataset from a statewide community college system, the authors employed an instrumental variable technique to estimate the impact of online versus face-to-face course delivery on student course performance, as indicated by course persistence and final course grade.
To control for self-selection bias, the distance from each student’s home to the student’s college campus was used as an instrument for the likelihood of enrolling in an online section of a given course. Course fixed effects were added to the instrumental variable model to compare students who took different sections of the same course with different delivery formats, potentially controlling for within- and between-course selection bias.
Analyses yield robust negative estimates for online learning in terms of both course persistence and course grade. These results suggest that policymakers and college administrators may need to improve the quality of online learning before enacting policies that would incentivize an accelerated expansion of online enrollments.
A journal article based on this paper, titled "The Impact of Online Learning on Students’ Course Outcomes: Evidence From a Large Community and Technical College System," was published in the Economics of Education Review, vol. 37. The results presented in the article are slightly different from those in the original paper.