Research has shown that community college students are more likely to fail or get lower grades in online courses than students in traditional classrooms. Yet, other research has found those community college students are more likely to graduate than their counterparts.
A study conducted by Peter Shea, associate provost of online learning at the University of Albany, revealed that community college students who take online courses are 25% more likely to finish their two-year associate degree than students who didn’t take any online classes. He also discovered that students who take online courses tend to graduate sooner.
“It’s a bit of a paradox,” he said. “They’re doing worse at the course level, but at the program level—despite lower grades—they’re finishing.”
Hans Johnson, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, reported similar results in a 2014 study. He found that while just 60% of California community college students passed an online class, they were more likely to graduate and transfer to a four-year institution.
Part of the reason for this contradiction may be that it’s easier for students who are juggling a job and family to enroll in an online class necessary to graduate, according to Jill Barshay in her column for The Hechinger Report. While those students may not be getting great grades, they are collecting credits toward graduation.
“The question for community college leaders is whether they should continue to expand their online courses to help a small minority of students get through college as quickly as possible,” Barshay wrote. “It will be tempting, since those students are boosting graduation rates. But online courses are helping the most prepared students who are most likely to succeed, not the struggling students who need the most help.”