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Online courses attracting fewer students

A growing body of research suggests that students who enroll exclusively in online courses have a lower overall completion rate than students who take some or all in-person classes. The research seems to throw at least some cold water on schools that hope to increase their online learning programs. Researchers found lower completion rates among students who initially intended to complete both two-year and four-year programs.

Additionally, data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics shows a continuing downward trend in the number of students who enroll in online courses exclusively. In 2020, nearly three-fourths of all post-secondary students enrolled in some or all online courses. In 2021, the number of students taking some or all online courses dropped to 59%. The latest data from 2022 shows that 53.4% of students enrolled in at least one online course.

The other side of this coin is that the number of students choosing in-person courses exclusively is rising. In 2020, 26.6% of college students enrolled exclusively in in-person courses. In 2021, that number rose to 41%, and in 2022, 47% of all college students enrolled exclusively in in-person courses. While online enrollment is greater than it was prior to the pandemic, it is still declining overall, and a growing number of students are rejecting online coursework.

At the community college level, the completion rate among students – regardless of the course delivery method they choose – is already abysmally low. Encouraging (or in some cases requiring) students to enroll in online courses seems like a really good way to ensure that completion rates remain low. It’s almost an act of sabotage aimed at the students who can least afford to throw time and money away.

Online courses have lower completion rates

There’s something to be said about the sense of accountability that in-person delivery creates. In-person delivery also enables better interaction between the instructor and the students, and among the students themselves. Those simply can’t be replicated in an online-only class. In-person instruction also builds interpersonal and time-management skills that students will need and employers will value in the workplace.

The research also raises questions about the rigor of online courses compared to in-person delivery. An article published in Business Insider last summer went so far as to call some online degree programs “predatory.” It was especially negative toward colleges and universities that use third-party content providers and online program managers to deliver some or all of a college’s online content. At the end of the day, not every student has the resources, materials, equipment, and support to succeed in online classes.

The welfare and benefit of the students should be the college’s first priorities. Online courses should be optional; yet WCC offers a number of courses in online-only formats. WCC needs to find ways to improve student completion and retention rates instead of implementing new ways for them to fail. Forcing students to take online courses and tuning programs to encourage online-only enrollment may be doing just this.

Photo Credit: Dominican University, via Flickr