December 15, 2023
Students who enroll in online bachelor’s programs are less likely to complete their degrees than students who take at least some in-person courses, according to a new working paper from University of Florida and West Virginia University researchers.
They found students in exclusively online programs were 8.3 percentage points less likely to complete their bachelor’s degrees than students who took in-person classes.
Online students also fared differently depending on what type of institution they attended. For instance, online students at for-profit universities were 11.9 percentage points less likely to finish their bachelor’s degrees than their peers at other four-year colleges.
Black, Hispanic, Asian and White students were all significantly less likely to complete their programs if they took only online classes. But Asian students taking online programs fared the worst compared to their in-person peers, as they were 21.7 percentage points less likely to finish their programs.
Researchers looked at 22,500 students who attended college between 2012 and 2017.
The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, adds to the evidence suggesting that students who take online programs perform worse than those enrolled in face-to-face offerings. A 2021 study of Colombian students, for instance, found those who completed online bachelor’s degrees performed worse on their exit exams than their in-person peers.