Community college students have made their online learning preferences clear, and institutions must meet the increasing demand for flexibility and high-quality online courses

Moving forward, online learning is king


Students have made their learning preferences clear, and institutions must meet the increasing demand for flexibility and high-quality online courses

As higher education transitions to a new normal following the pandemic, one aspect community college students don’t want to give up is access to online courses. Whether currently enrolled in in-person, hybrid or online courses, the majority of students say they want to take more courses fully online in the future.

The Spring 2022 installment of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of edtech company Cengage and industry partners, found that three-quarters of community college students (76%) want to take some courses fully online in the future, up from 68% in the Fall of 2021.

“Students have made their learning preferences clear, and now institutions have to meet the increasing demand for quality online courses and provide the flexibility students want along with the support services we know they need to be successful,” said Kevin Carlsten, Senior Vice President of the U.S. Higher Education Institutional Group at Cengage, who shared further insight into the research and what it means for administrators in a recent article here. “Students are getting increasingly comfortable with online learning and are enjoying its benefits. We will continue to build on that and do it in an affordable, supportive way.” 

Key takeaways from the survey include:

Students are more positive about their learning experiences in Spring 2022 vs. Spring 2021. More two-year students (53%) gave their Spring 2022 learning experience an “A” compared to only 40% in Spring 2021. For those students taking online courses, 62% gave online learning an “A” in Spring 2022, compared to only 40% of students in Spring 2021.

Regardless of current course format, students want to take more courses fully online in the future. Eighty-eight percent of students are currently in online courses; 60% of students are currently in, in-person courses and 76% of students in hybrid courses want to take at least some courses fully online in the future.

Stress is the single most-pressing issue for students. Half (49%) of community college students felt stress was big problem for them, followed by financial issues (31%), level of motivation (29%), and family and health issues (25%).

Institutions need to do more to grow awareness of and use of available student support services. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) of community college students were unaware if their institution offered support services for them. While more than half of students (57%) were aware of their institution’s services, only 15% had actually used such services. Of those who did use the services, however, 85% found them effective.

“One thing the pandemic has shown us is that we need to be flexible, and providing that flexibility and support for students will be key to the future of community colleges,” said Dr. Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and Director of Bay View Analytics.  “The experience with online and blended/hybrid learning experiences has led students to want more. And while students give their institution good grades, many are still coping with stress – something that can become a major barrier if not addressed.”

“These findings represent an important litmus test for community colleges and their leaders,” said ACCT President and CEO Jee Hang Lee. “First and foremost, we are heartened to learn that most students are very satisfied with their learning experiences. Offering courses online creates new opportunities for busy students to stay engaged in college. We at ACCT are committed to continuing to work with colleges to find support services that will help more students persist in and complete their higher education journeys.  

“These findings are important because they center the student voice and offer valuable insights for our colleges to consider as they work to redesign course and services delivery to address student success and enrollment losses,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “It is fascinating that more than half of the students are aware of the plethora of services on our campuses, yet only 15% use the services.  How do we close that gap? Our students clearly need these supports.” 

“Community colleges have always worked to meet students where they are and this research tells us exactly where today’s students are and what they need from us,” said Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner. “In addition to providing college leaders with insight into how students prefer to learn, this research highlighted that our students are struggling with feelings of personal well-being. As a community of community college leaders, it is our job to listen and to be responsive to their needs—academically, personally, and socially.”

“HERDI is pleased to be part of this research project. Discovering how community college students, faculty and administrators is crucial since this segment serves almost half of all higher education enrollments,” said Toni Cleveland, CEO of Higher Ed Research and Development Institute (HERDI).

The Digital Learning Pulse Survey is an ongoing research project to understand how the pandemic is changing higher education. The spring survey had more than 1,600 respondents across community colleges – 1,246 students and 441 faculty and administrators, and was conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of primary partner and underwriter Cengage, as well as the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Achieving the Dream (ATD), Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the Higher Education Research & Development Institute (HERDI) and College Pulse.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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