Kay Steiger sounds off the warning bells with regard to online college:

Via the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, a new study confirms some earlier findings about the efficacy of online learning in two-year colleges. The study, conduced by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, looked at more than 50,000 students in Washington state’s community or technical college system. What they found was that students who load up on online classes, especially early in their higher education careers, are less likely to finish their degrees. This is worrisome, especially because, as CCRC notes in its report, the number of students taking online courses is only increasing.

Other commentary has pointed out that online learning requires a basic degree of computer know-how that a lot of people don’t have and that online learning requires a level of discipline that traditional learning doesn’t. These are both very valid points and two of the three main reasons why online education will never become a norm (even as computer know-how increases). But there is something else at work, which Steiger points out: online students are not the same as physical students in terms of student profiles.

The Atlantic has been raising the banner of the non-traditional student. This is part of the “problem,” if you view it as such. Non-traditional students returning to school may be a good thing, but they’re often going to be the most marginal students. Not because they’re lazy or dumb, but because they have a lot of other things going on. That’s precisely what attracts them to the flexibility of online learning in the first place. This is also one of the reasons that for-profit universities have such abysmal graduation rates. They cater to precisely these students.

When we talk about increasing college enrollment, this is one of the things that we have to be looking at. We’d partially be bringing into the fold a lot of people who are not, at present, in a great position to do well in school. It may be worth bringing them into the fold anyway! But we have to accept that one of the costs of this is going to be higher drop-out rates and at least some students potentially hurt along the way with debt but no degree. Unless we’re going to start paying people to go to college, we have to factor this into the equation.

This is something that brick-and-mortar universities themselves often look at. One university near where I live is trying like hell to make the transition away from being a commuter school that provides the opportunity for a great education to people without a lot of options in favor of being a more traditional university. Why? Because a lot of these students are failing out. This hurts the university’s profile by making it look like a school that is failing. But by changing the student body to a more traditional one, the hope is that the numbers will improve and the university will look better. The only sacrifice required is shuffling off the “wrong” people to schools that are less good.

And on a personal level, I grit my teeth when I hear people talking about how they want their kids to “work their way through college.” Presumably so that they won’t take it for granted. There may be something to this, though in my experience working while going to college is more often going to be a recipe for failure. A working student serves two masters. My ex-girlfriend, an honors student in high school, failed miserably in college due in no small part to the fact that she was working at a pet store the whole time. Could she have done both if she were more disciplined? Sure. But that’s the kind of disciplined student you don’t have to worry about in the first place. Meanwhile, my own GPA fell considerably when I started working while attending. It’s a serious distraction. Some people have no choice. But putting kids in that situation for the sake of making a point or thinking it will lead to better outcomes is mistaken.

-{Originally Posted on NaPP}-


Category: School

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12 Responses to The Online U & The Traditional Student

  1. Abel says:

    There may be something to this, though in my experience working while going to college is more often going to be a recipe for failure.

    This really depends on how much the student is working. Every year except my freshman year I had a part-time job and worked full time in the summer. My last year of college I was married and working two part time jobs (so was my wife). It made life stressful but it didn’t stop me from graduating or getting good grads. One just had to be disciplined enough to do homework instead of watching football or playing video games. If it was a fulltime job, that would make completing school many times more difficult.

    Besides, having a job–even a part time one–can go a long way in experience when students find themselves looking for work after graduation. I landed my first real job, in part, because I had spend the last year or so working for an ISP. I was able to complete an internship as part of my real job and have some basic tech skills that made the employer more comfortable choosing me over other new grads. In this economy, I think having a part time job would go a long way to helping grads find meaningful employment after graduation.

  2. trumwill says:

    Summer jobs have become relatively hard to come by. I certainly don’t have a problem with those, though. Summer school might be the better way to go, though, so you can graduate sooner.

    My job likely did help me find work when I graduated, but the effect it had on my GPA makes going back to school harder to consider. Not because my GPA itself was bad, but because they often look at “the last 60 hours.”

  3. Scarlet Knight says:

    I grit my teeth when I hear people talking about how they want their kids to “work their way through college.”

    I do too. Especially when it is obvious when the parents couldn’t put their kids through college even if they wanted to. It is like the parents who won’t buy their kids a car when they turn 16 in the name of personal responsibility, even though it is obvious the parents don’t have a bucket to spit in. You aren’t fooling anyone.

    Besides, working one’s way through college was easier in the 1960s, when tuition was a more reasonable multiple of the minimum wage. Since then, one has increased much more quickly than the other.

    Ideally, college students shouldn’t work during the semesters. I can make an exception for working on campus, especially if it furthers one’s goals. But being a server at Chili’s isn’t very useful.

  4. trumwill says:

    Ideally, college students shouldn’t work during the semesters. I can make an exception for working on campus, especially if it furthers one’s goals. But being a server at Chili’s isn’t very useful.

    If I recall, Web started out as a student-worker and became full time after graduation. I tried to get a job at Sotech, applying for position after position, but they wouldn’t give me the time of day.

    Have you retired the MH moniker?

  5. Scarlet Knight says:

    Web started out as a student-worker and became full time after graduation.

    Good for him. It was almost like an informal internship for him. Even if someone doesn’t want to work on campus after graduation, most student campus jobs are criminally easy, i.e. swiping student ID cards at the gym, computer lab, etc. Plenty of time to get your school work done.

    Have you retired the MH moniker?

    Yes I have. I didn’t even grin anymore when looking at it. Besides, I have stated before on here that I am from NJ, so the SK moniker doesn’t give anything anyway, especially since I’m not a Rutgers alum.

    I didn’t make a formal announcement. I figured you would figure it out since I quoted myself in your next post and I am using the same domain in my email.

  6. trumwill says:

    I actually had a job on campus, too. I delivered the student paper every morning from 5-7am for a couple of years. I don’t even think it’s on my resume anymore as the line was not worth it. I was also a columnist for the school newspaper, though I’d rather future employers not know about that.

    Almost nobody who worked at the paper was a journalism major. The journalism majors thought they were too good for it. The funny thing is, at least a couple of writers for the school paper went on to work for the Colosse Herald or Colosse Weekly.

    Besides, I have stated before on here that I am from NJ, so the SK moniker doesn’t give anything anyway, especially since I’m not a Rutgers alum.

    Cheat!

    A curious name, actually, for someone who criticized people who are fans of schools they did not go to.

  7. Scarlet Knight says:

    A curious name, actually, for someone who criticized people who are fans of schools they did not go to

    I make an exception for the State U if your own alma mater is of a lower level. For example, if I went to East Stroudsburg University, I would be allowed to root for Penn State as well. But if I went to Pitt, then I wouldn’t.

    Besides, Rutgers doesn’t come close to turning a profit on athletics, so I am a Scarlet Knight booster whether I like it or not.

  8. trumwill says:

    I make an exception for the State U if your own alma mater is of a lower level. {…} But if I went to Pitt, then I wouldn’t.

    What about Temple in the MAC (for now)?

    Besides, Rutgers doesn’t come close to turning a profit on athletics, so I am a Scarlet Knight booster whether I like it or not.

    Hey, that’s a fantastic point.

  9. stone says:

    “We’d partially be bringing into the fold a lot of people who are not, at present, in a great position to do well in school. ”

    How tactful. Bluntly: I have a number of meth-addicted parents on my dependency client roster who are currently receiving financial aid (in addition to welfare, until their kids are removed) for their attendance at for-profit universities or community college. Sometimes these schools have an on-line component to them. If you didn’t know these folks, you’d probably think it was just wonderful that the government is writing a check for their education. You’d think we were helping people get *off* the dole. But the sad truth is these people will never be self-supporting; basically, the financial aid is just another way for our tax dollars pay for their lives for a while. Often they have more children while they’re “going to school.”

    The status of “student” gives them an excuse not to work, inflates their self-esteem, and gives them arguments (ineffective legally, but ones I have to deal with nonetheless) that they can’t drug test, do rehab, or any of the other programs the court orders to improve their parenting.

  10. Scarlet Knight says:

    What about Temple in the MAC (for now)?

    Hmmm. It is interesting that you use Temple as your counter-example, since I was going to mention them first. Villanova and St Joseph’s alumni are OK to root for Penn State in football only, since they don’t have FBS teams. Temple is in no man’s land, since while being FBS, is not currently in a BCS conference.

    In a split decision, I am going to say no. Technically, if they go undefeated a few years in a row with a strong schedule, can win a national title. Villanova can’t, no matter what.

    In NJ, the same applies to Seton Hall and Monmouth. They can root for Rutgers in football only, while someone who went to Trenton State can root for Rutgers in all sports.

    I am more concerned that HitCoffee is becoming your second fiddle. This was posted on NaPP FIVE DAYS ago. I inadvertently stole a comment from E.C. Gach. Sorry E.C., I didn’t mean it. I think we should come first.

  11. trumwill says:

    In a split decision, I am going to say no. Technically, if they go undefeated a few years in a row with a strong schedule, can win a national title. Villanova can’t, no matter what.

    Villanova can (and does) win [a] national title(s), just not the same one. Nitpicking, I am aware.

    I tend to agree, for the most part. Though your point about taxation does still apply.

    And I would make an exception if you do have a connection to a particular school. I root for my fathers alma mater and my brothers’. Though mine comes first. When it comes to root-firsts, I am still in agreement.

    I am more concerned that HitCoffee is becoming your second fiddle. This was posted on NaPP FIVE DAYS ago. I inadvertently stole a comment from E.C. Gach. Sorry E.C., I didn’t mean it. I think we should come first.

    I recycle in both directions. NaPP has got a couple of hypotheticals that I wrote a long time back, for instance. I would rather have one conversation of a post at a time, however, therefore I do not post them to both places at the same time.

  12. trumwill says:

    Sheila, I really liked your comment. I wish you’d posted it a bit sooner and I could have used it in a separate conversation.

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