Study: Online learning boosts completion

Does Online Learning Help Community College Students Attain a Degree?  Yes, in some cases, concludes research by Peter Shea, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Albany.

Online community college students in Virginia and Washington state have higher failure and dropout rates, according to earlier studies by the the Community College Research Center.

Shea, who used to run SUNY’s online education system, found the CCRC’s conclusions “counterintuitive,”  he told Inside Higher Ed. Online education’s flexibility and convenience should help students advance, he believes.

In contrast to the CCRC studies, the Albany research found that students who had enrolled in at least one online course in their first year did not come into college with better academic preparation than did those who took no courses at a distance.

And students who took online courses at a distance were 1.25 times likelier to earn a credential (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree) by 2009 than were their peers who had not taken any online courses. Those who started college with a goal of attaining a certificate (rather than a bachelor’s degree) and took online courses were 3.22 times as likely to earn a credential than were students who did not take online courses.

Shea used a nationally representative data set, he points out. Virginia and Washington state could be outliers.

Shanna Jaggars, a co-author of the Community College Research Center studies, said the Albany study may include more adult students.  “For older students who are working full-time and have children, the ability to maintain a full-time load by mixing in one or two online courses per semester may outweigh the negative consequences of performing slightly more poorly in each online course they take.”

Making the most of 12th grade

“College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for all high school graduates.  Making the Most of 12th Grade in the Common Core Era, a policy brief by the Community College Research Center and Jobs for the Future, looks at ways to help students who aren’t on track for success.

Currently, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at open-access four-year colleges require one or more remedial classes, according to the CCRC. While 43 percent of community college students who need remediation graduate in eight years, only 28 percent of remedial students complete a credential.

Seven states and the District of Columbia — plus a number of school districts — are creating “transition” curricula to help low-scoring 12th-graders avoid remediation in college. Usually, these involve a special course, online tutorials and sometimes help with study skills and “college knowledge.”  Tennessee’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) pilot uses a mix of online and teacher-led learning to teach key math competencies.

The Southern Regional Ed Board has designed model literacy and math courses for high-risk students.

Early college high school and dual enrollment programs also can help high-risk students prepare for college, the policy brief concludes. Once in community college, accelerated remediation  and redesigned developmental math (statistics and quantitative reasoning for non-STEM students) show promise.

“Acceleration is more motivating than remediation,” writes Joel Vargas of Jobs for the Future. “The students who will struggle most with the Common Core are likely to be the same ones who struggle now to graduate high school and enroll in college. They will be disproportionately low-income and minority youth, often English language learners, whose parents did not attend college themselves.”

Online learning reveals generation gap

MOOC enthusiasts should consider a Community College Research Center survey that found many college students want “in-person discussion and on-the-spot feedback,” writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. There’s a generational divide in online learning separating young students from those 30 and older, she writes.

. . . my brother and I are galaxies apart in terms of technology, even though he’s only six years younger. He has never known a world without computers, while I still remember the awe of searching on the Internet for the first time. He reads news from a screen; I flip through the Sunday paper. In college, he learned on computers in campus labs; I bought textbooks and highlighted relevant passages. I can’t reach my brother by calling him, but if I send a text message, my phone will buzz with an immediate reply.

She sides with the community college students who want to go to brick-and-mortar classrooms, listen to a live human being and ask questions in real-time. But the rising generation of students may prefer the convenience of an online course.

In the survey, students said they were more likely to take “easy” courses online – meaning ones they could teach themselves – but preferred a face-to-face environment for more complicated courses, such as science and foreign language. This speaks to a growing need to move general education curricula online, much like the University System of Georgia does with eCore. Students there can take the first two years of their four-year degree online, before moving into classes on campus required for their major. If more universities moved in this direction, it could streamline articulation agreements and transfer processes for students, ensuring that they wouldn’t lose credit if they decided to switch institutions—as many college students do.

The future of higher education is more likely to blend online and face-to-face coursework than to go all MOOC, Zatynski predicts.

CCRC: Online courses can widen achievement gap

Learning online is especially difficult for lower-achieving students concludes a working paper by researchers at Columbia’s Community College Research Center.  Younger students, males and blacks also did worse in online courses than in traditional face-to-face courses, researchers found after analyzing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State.

“Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but . . .  also widen achievement gaps,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.

All students who take more online courses are less likely to attain a degree, the study found. But it’s worse for more vulnerable students.

“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, one of the authors. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”

Online learning can still be a great tool, she said, particularly for older students who juggle studying and raising a family. For those students, as well as female and higher-performing students, the difference between online and physical classrooms was more marginal, according to the study.

“So for older students, you can sort of see the cost-benefit balance in favor of taking more courses online,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They might do a little worse, but over all it’s a pretty good trade-off for the easier access. But where a student doesn’t need online courses for their access, it’s unclear if that is a good trade-off.”

Writing courses attracted many poor learners, the study found. Online students had the grestest difficulties with social science courses, such as psychology and anthropology, and the applied professions, such as business and nursing.

Researchers suggested screening out students likely to do poorly, providing early warnings for struggling students, teaching online learning skills in some courses and/or working to improve the quality of online courses.

New center will study college-jobs link

A new national center will study the link between postsecondary education and the workforce using a five-year grant from the federal Institute of Education Sciences.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University will collaborate with scholars at the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, the City University of New York and the University of North Carolina.

The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment, or CAPSEE, will study:

(1) relatively short-term occupational degrees (occupational associate degrees and certificates or diplomas) that are designed to improve labor market outcomes; (2) non-credit workforce programs that now enroll millions of students and play an important (but under-investigated) workforce development role; (3) the burgeoning for-profit sector; and (4) the trajectory of earnings growth after college (or even occurring simultaneously with college).

The center’s 12 research projects will use data from five partner states, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.

One project will try to determine the effectiveness of job retraining programs at Ohio community and technical colleges. Another will look at whether working undermines students’ success in college.

A Michigan research team will evaluate the state’s No Worker Left Behind (NWLB) program, which aims to draw laid-off or marginally employed workers back to school to obtain credentials in high-demand fields.

North Carolina’s One-Stop Career Centers located on community college campuses will be the focus of another study.

Supports for success

Non-academic supports can help community college students persist and eventually earn a credential, concludes a policy brief by Melinda Mechur Karp of the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Supports can improve student outcomes in four ways: “creating social relationships, clarifying aspirations and enhancing commitment, developing college know-how, and addressing conflicting demands of work, family and college.”


Online students more likely to fail

Online students are less likely to succeed than students in traditional classes at Washington state community and technical colleges, according to a five-year study released by the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia University. Results were similar to those found in a parallel CCRC study in Virginia.

Online students were employed for more hours and and had demographic characteristics associated with stronger academic preparation, compared to students in hybrid and traditional classes. However, after controlling for student characteristics, online students were more likely to withdraw or fail.

In addition, students who took online coursework in early terms were slightly but significantly less likely to return to school in subsequent terms, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly but significantly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.

Students who took hybrid courses were similar demographically to students in face-to-face courses and were equally likely to complete their courses.

“Given the importance of online learning in terms of student convenience and institutional flexibility, current system supports for online learning should be bolstered and strengthened in order to improve completion rates among online learners,” the report recommends.

CCRC releases new studies

Two remedial math approaches — structured student collaboration and instruction focusing on problem representation — may improve learning and understanding, concludes a study  by Michelle Hodara released by the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia University.  Strategies focusing on metacognition, application, understanding student thinking and computer-based learning were less effective.

Community college placement tests do not improve student outcomes, concludes a study by Katherine Hughes and Judith Scott-Clayton.

Non-academic supports for students succeed by “creating social relationships, clarifying aspirations and commitment, developing college know-how, and addressing conflicting demands of work, family, and college,” concludes a study by Melinda Mechur Karp.

These papers are part of the CCRC Assessment of Evidence Series, funded by the Gates Foundation.

How to raise graduation rates

To increase graduation rates, community colleges should streamline student decision-making processes, revise online education models to facilitate course completion and favor college-wide reform over small-scale interventions. These are findings from three working papers released this week by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.  This is only the first installment of the Assessment of Evidence Series.

Community colleges need to engage in broad institutional reform, said CCRC director Thomas Bailey.

“Successful stand-alone programs in isolation will not do enough to improve outcomes for large numbers of students. Strategies must work in concert across the institution, and faculty need to be at the center of sustained, college-wide efforts to improve student success.”

Redesigning community colleges for completion: Lessons from research on high-performance organizations by Davis Jenkins outlines steps community colleges can take to improve student learning and progression.

In The shapeless river: Does a lack of structure inhibit students’ progress at community colleges?, Judith Scott-Clayton highlights several promising programs that help students navigate college options and make good choices.

Online learning: Does it help low-income and underprepared students? concludes that online learning is flexible and convenient, but completion rates are low for community college students. Shanna Jaggars suggests ways to improve online learning access and success rates.

Integrating academics, job skills

Combining basic skills instruction with job training improves most educational outcomes, concludes a study by the Community College Research Center.

Developed in Washington state, Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, known as I-BEST, teams a basic skills instructor with an occupational instructor. Students can earn college credits for the job training coursework.

. . .  students who attended colleges with I-BEST after the program was implemented were 7.5 percentage points more likely to earn a certificate within three years and almost 10 percentage points more likely to earn some college credits, relative to students who were not exposed to I-BEST.

However, I-BEST did not earn more money after completing training or work more hours, perhaps because they entered the labor market just as the recession hit.