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Online Learning: Does It Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students? (Assessment of Evidence Series)

By: Shanna Smith Jaggars

Online learning has generated enthusiasm for its potential to promote greater access to college by reducing the cost and time of commuting and by allowing students to study on a schedule that is optimal for them.

The enthusiasm surrounding these and other innovative, technology-based programs has led educators to ask whether online learning could be leveraged to increase the academic access, progression, and success of low-income and underprepared college students as well. However, this review of the postsecondary literature on online learning strongly suggests that online coursework—at least as currently and typically implemented—may hinder progression for low-income and underprepared students.

The paper explores why students might struggle in these courses, discusses current access barriers to online education, and offers suggestions on how public policy and institutional practice could be changed to allow online learning to better meet its potential in terms of improving both college access and student progression.

Associated Project(s):

Assessment of Evidence Series