The impact of online learning on students’ course outcomes: Evidence from a large community and technical college system
Using a large administrative dataset from a statewide system including 34 community and technical colleges, the authors employed an instrumental variable technique to estimate the impact of online versus face-to-face course delivery on student course performance. The travel distance between each student's home and college campus served as an instrument for the likelihood of enrolling in an online section of a given course. In addition, college-by-course fixed effects controlled for within- and between-course selection bias. Analyses yield robust negative estimates for online learning in terms of both course persistence and course grade, contradicting the notion that there is no significant difference between online and face-to-face student outcomes—at least within the community college setting. Accordingly, both two-year and four-year colleges may wish to focus on evaluating and improving the quality of online coursework before engaging in further expansions of online learning.
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