Community-College Students Perform Worse Online Than Face to Face

Community-college students enrolled in online courses fail and drop out more often than those whose coursework is classroom-based, according to a new study released by the Community College Research Center at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

The study, which followed the enrollment history of 51,000 community-college students in Washington State between 2004 and 2009, found an eight percentage-point gap in completion rates between traditional and online courses. Although students who enrolled in online courses tended to have stronger academic preparation and come from higher income brackets than the community-college population on the whole, researchers found that students who took online classes early in their college careers were more likely to drop out than those who took only face-to-face courses. Among students who took any courses online, those with the most Web-based credits were the least likely to graduate or transfer to a four-year institution.

“Online courses are a vital piece of the postsecondary puzzle,” said Shanna S. Jaggars, co-author of the study. “There are a lot of nontraditional students who would find it very difficult to attend and complete college without the flexibility they offer, but at the same time colleges need to be careful to make sure these courses aren’t just thrown together and that they are effectively serving students.”

Thirty-three percent of the students observed in the study enrolled in at least one course online during the five-year period. Students in an online course had an 82-percent chance of completing the course, compared with a 90-percent chance in face-to-face courses. Among students in remedial courses, the gap was even wider—85 percent of students completed their face-to-face courses, but only 74 percent completed the same course online.

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