- Online learning is providing a gateway to a college education for an increasing number of students, but some data indicates online learners aren’t completing degrees as often as students in traditional or blended programs, according to Inside Higher Education.
- That was the report from Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, who used data from a number of sources to conclude that online learning is keeping tuition costs down and increasing access to higher education for adults, but that it may be graduating students at a substantially lower rate than other programs.
- Garrett said it raises questions about how forcefully college should be promoting online education based on convenience and affordability when it “may not be best for them educationally.”
Garrett has collected data showing that enrollment of “traditional age undergraduates" rose only by 3% from 2012 to 2017. He also said the number of total students studying fully online grew by 11% and that 13% of all undergraduates are studying fully online.
Other research has drawn different conclusions, suggesting that taking at least some digital learning course may help students stay in college and even complete degrees quicker. For instance, at Houston Community College, freshmen retention rates were about nine points higher among students in all-online or blended courses. At the University of Central Florida, students who took between 40% and 60% of their courses online finished their degrees on average in 3.9 years while their peers in face-to-face classes finished on average in 4.3 years.
Some experts note, however, that online courses have to be engaging, involve personal contact and that online education needs to be supported with the same or more student services than those offered to in traditional settings.
Garrett also reported that some cities with economic need have high levels of online learners, suggesting, he said, that they have concluded it might help close gaps in economic disparity. A separate report suggests that since the U.S. is behind worldwide in graduation rates for adults, blended classrooms might be an effective remedy.
Other recent data shows the online learning market will peak at four million students in the 2019-2020 academic year. The Online College Students 2018 report provide provides four key findings: Courses should be mobile friendly; online students need access to career services; online learning is offering a wider range of courses; and about 86% of online students feel “the value of their degree equals or exceeds the cost they paid for it.”
A similar number students surveyed for the Online College Students report believe online courses are as good or better than traditional ones. A 2017 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report found that 74 percent of online students rated their satisfaction level as satisfied or very satisfied.