Course Completion Rates Fell During Remote Switch

September 25, 2020

Course completion fell for students at one statewide community college system when it shifted to virtual instruction at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers at the University of Virginia compared course completion rates for students at the Virginia Community College System who were enrolled in online courses from the start of the spring semester against those who were enrolled in in-person courses at the start and had to switch to virtual instruction due to the pandemic.

They found that the shift to virtual instruction resulted in a 6.7-percentage-point decrease in course completion. This was primarily due to a 5.1-percentage-point increase in course withdrawals. There was also a 1.4-percentage-point increase in course failures.

The report also examined how instructor experience in teaching in different modalities impacted completion and found that even an instructor's familiarity with teaching online was not able to mitigate the negative impact for students who started the semester in person.

"Instead, the negative impacts on student outcome appear to be driven by struggles students had shifting to the online learning environment," the report states.

The switch to remote learning also had a larger impact on students with lower grade point averages or those with no credit accumulation, compared to those with high GPAs or those who had earned at least 30 credits.

Male students were also more negatively impacted by the switch, the study found, but there weren't differential effects among age or racial groups.

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