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Online Education is Key to Success

Online program VS Community Program

Here’s an unusual case where scholarly research is producing a clear conclusion: Online instruction at community colleges isn’t working. Yet policymakers are continuing to fund programs to expand online courses at these schools, which primarily serve low-income minority students, and community college administrators are planning to offer more and more of them.

The latest salvo comes from researchers at the University of California—Davis, who found that community college students throughout California were 11 percent less likely to finish and pass a course if they opted to take the online version instead of the traditional face-to-face version of the same class. The still-unpublished paper, titled “Online Course-taking and Student Outcomes in California Community Colleges,” was presented on April 18, 2015, at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference in Chicago.

Not surprisingly, community colleges have rapidly expanded their online course offerings in the past decade. More than 27 percent of students at public two-year colleges were taking some or all of their classes online in 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, many more than at four-year colleges. For the most part, these are ordinary students taking some courses online at a bricks-and-mortar school, not students in fully online degree programs.

The researchers found that business and information technology classes were the most popular online classes. (To my surprise, students were far more likely to opt to take math in the classroom with a professor.) In every subject, those selecting the online version of a class tended to be the stronger students. Nonetheless, those who took the online version were less likely to complete a course, pass it or get an A or B grade than students with a similar academic and financial background who took the traditional class.

Nonetheless, community college administrators continue to expand this sort of online instruction. An Inside Higher Ed survey, published April 17, 2015, reported that “50 percent of two-year-college presidents agreed that more courses could be moved online without adversely affecting students at their institutions.” The state of California is giving grants to the state’s community college system to coordinate online course delivery across campuses.

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