A new Rand study released last week shows that K-12 students struggled with online classes. Those who learned in fully online classes in the 2020-21 school year received less instructional time and covered less material than those in hybrid or fully in-person settings. Three-fourths of principals of fully remote schools said their students performed below grade level in math. In addition, the study showed that fully remote schools had higher proportions of low-income students and students of color.
These findings have implications for places like WCC. Many K-12 students who have spent a lot of time in “Zoom School” in the past year, will take classes at WCC. State of Michigan data show that 40% of Washtenaw County high school graduates enroll at WCC within 5 years of their high school graduation.
That’s not the only issue WCC will face with these students when they arrive. Beyond their performance in math classes, these students also tended experience problems with consistent attendance. They also had less access to technology and broadband Internet services.
Because students have not fully returned to in-person schooling yet, we don’t know the impact of the 2020-21 school year. It is also impossible to know how this will carry over in subsequent years, which will be – presumably – conducted mostly in person.
We’re beginning to see that minority students had a harder time getting access to fully remote instruction. They performed less well than their hybrid- or in-person student counterparts. These students struggled to complete assignments and were absent from scheduled classes at twice the rate of in-person learners. This is consistent with what we already know about community college students’ performance in online classes.
Online classes aren’t a solution for all students
Past is not always prologue, but it does provide a window into student struggles with online classes. It also provides information about who is most likely to struggle in online classes, and how they will come up short.
It’s actually a very important piece of information for WCC administrators who desperately want to push even more classes online. Community colleges serve a high proportion of students of color and low-income students. The Rand study shows that pushing forward with online learning is likely to produce a strong negative impact specifically for them.
We already know that low-income and minority students complete degrees less often than their white counterparts do. This is especially true for African American male students, who have the lowest completion rate of all demographic groups. Insisting that Washtenaw County students enroll in online courses by limiting their options for in-person learning will consign less-prepared students to failure. It may also discourage them from enrolling at WCC.
As a community, we cannot lose sight of the evidence that suggests that online classes may have limited appeal and offer limited benefit to some of our most vulnerable students. The WCC Trustees must insist WCC offer in-person learning options to students who already face myriad academic and financial challenges.
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