In theory, online college programs are supposed to make learning easier for an array of reasons, leading to better graduation rates. Time is a big factor for many students. Flexible or shortened class schedules is another reason students choose virtual study.
Online learning is also appealing for students of all educational levels. This could be traditional students who have just graduated from high school. But it could also include those non-traditional students who already have an undergraduate degree and established career who might want to earn another degree to raise their marketability or change careers altogether.
Getting to commencement day is hard for both students who attend brick-and-mortar institutions or learn online at their own pace. From managing the costs that come with getting a degree to the time it takes to finish all the coursework, both types of students have a hard road ahead of them. So is online learning really that much easier that the tried-and-true approach?
Current research conflicts as to whether or not online students graduate at a higher rate than their traditional counterparts. A Columbia University Community College Research Center paper suggests that online learners are slightly less likely to finish their degree than students that attend classes on campus. And for the non-traditional student – those with a busy life or career – it makes sense that graduation may get put off for more pressing matters, such as raising a family or concentrating on their full-time job.
Other research suggests that it takes students longer to learn and earn their degree no matter the format. Students rarely finish a four-year degree in that time span. However, at the end of the day, one of the biggest factors – which is also the hardest to measure despite the research and surveys available – is how students learn.
If you think you’d work better on your own instead of a classroom setting, then online learning is most likely the best choice for you. If you thrive when you’re interacting with others, finding a hybrid program close to home might be a better option, where you can have a mix of hand-ons on learning and digital assignments.
Regardless, enrollment for online classes and degree programs are also continuing to grow, so the statistics might change down the road as more data becomes available for study.