- Community college students are more likely than four-year college students to have taken an online course recently and twice as likely to prefer them, according to a new report from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research.
- Community college students who prefer entirely or mostly online classes tend to be those who are women, work, are married or in a domestic partnership, or have dependents, researchers found.
- The authors recommend community colleges educate students about "the demands and possibilities" of online learning to help them choose the best option, and to train faculty who teach blended and online courses in how to use student success tools.
Uptake of online learning continues to grow, with the number of students taking some or all of their courses online rising nearly 6% from the fall of 2016 to 2017, while overall enrollment dropped by about half a percentage point during that time.
The Educause report found that nearly 70% of community college students took an online course in the last 12 months compared to 54% at four-year institutions. What's more, 12% of community college students preferred classes that are entirely online.
Yet some brick-and-mortar institutions are finding it challenging to support online students with the same services that fully online programs offer, particularly financial aid and academic advising. Those are among the critical support services for community college students, who Educause notes trend older, with jobs and family commitments.
In its report, Educause explained that community college students were less aware than were four-year college students of the degree planning tools available to them. On the whole, respondents said tools that "aid them in the business of being students," such as degree audits and self-service registration, were more useful than features more closely aligned with academic success, like early-alert systems.
A checklist debuted last fall from the Online Learning Consortium offers around a dozen services colleges can provide online students, ranging from preenrollment advising to career counseling.
Victoria Brown, an assistant provost for eLearning at Florida Atlantic University who helped develop the scorecard, told Education Dive earlier this year that many colleges realize they need to make changes such as extending hours of operation for their campus services. Providing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous assistance opportunities can also help, she said.