The Promises and Limits of Online Higher Education

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American Enterprise Institute


In the past two decades, one of the most important innovations in the US higher education system has been the steady increase in distance education through online courses. While the supply and demand for online higher education is rapidly expanding, questions remain regarding its potential impact on increasing access, reducing costs, and improving student outcomes. This report finds that, to varying degrees, online education can benefit some student populations. However, important caveats and trade-offs remain. Existing experimental and quasi-experimental studies on semester-length college courses typically find negative effects on student course persistence and performance. Research suggests that students in online courses are between 3 percent and 15 percent more likely to withdraw, compared to similar students in face-to-face classes at community colleges. This report examines distance learning’s effect on access, cost, and quality and concludes with a discussion about how strategies and policies can improve the effectiveness of online learning in higher education.



online higher education, educational attainment--United States, college student retention