Study Finds Online Completion Rates Barely Lower Than On-Campus Rates

Online education is becoming popular among students around the world — but do more students complete courses in a traditional classroom enviroment?

With the introduction of MOOC courses in 2012, online education has become a growing threat to traditional education. The world’s leading universities are now offering, or planning to offer, online programs to meet the needs of the 21st century. Online education providers are also adopting new methods to attract more students and increase course completion rates.

But a new survey shows that completion rates for on-campus courses are only slightly higher than those for online courses. The survey, Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in Ensuring Quality, was released by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), writes Joshua Bolkan of Campus Technology.

The survey shows that the on-campus course completion rate is 3% higher than the online course completion rate. The completion rates for on-campus courses were 5% higher when comparing completion rates only from respondents representing institutions offering both on-campus and online courses.

The researchers surveyed 10 completely online institutions.

Though the study’s authors did suggest that the higher completion rates at online-only institutions may point to lessons to be learned from them, they also noted that, “The finding on course completion rates were based on the data presented to us. Due to the large number of non-responses, drawing firm conclusions about these rates must be done with caution.”

According to the survey, 65% of respondents did not provide completion rates for on-campus courses, while 55% were unable to report completion rates for online courses. Also, more than 85% of said they had adopted standards or best practices for online courses.

The researchers also found that 58% said their institution requires new online faculty to participate in some kind of development prior to teaching their first course online, and new courses are more likely to be reviewed at 53% than existing courses at 48%, according to respondents.

Around 22% of respondents said their institution requires students to attend an orientation prior to online classes. About 89% said their institution provides library and learning resource services for online students, while another 9% said they offer partial services. Further, 59% said their institution provides tutoring services for online learners, while 29% said they offer partial tutoring services for distance learners.

In addition, 30% of respondents said online students can access around-the-clock technical support. About 16% of responding institutions said they have no policy regarding students with disabilities and online courses and 36% said they rely on faculty to provide support for disabled students.

Moreover, 41% of responding institutions said they use technology to verify the identities of online students for assessments, while 40% said they use proctoring.

“Institutions with online courses are taking many steps to improve both the instructional and out-of-class experience both for faculty and students,” wrote Russell Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis at WCET, in an executive summary of the findings. “Much effort is spent on adopting and implementing practices that are based on ‘best practices’ developed by local, regional or national groups.”

“As is the case with all of higher education,” Poulin added, “there is room for improvement. Perhaps the needed improvement is not as much as some critics might claim.”