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Online Learning a Top Challenge for Community College Students

serious student studying with laptop

In a recent survey, community college students cited online learning as one of their top five challenges to success. Conducted by researchers from North Carolina State University, the Revealing Institutional Strengths and Challenges (RISC) Survey polled 50,097 students at 10 community colleges across the United States on the challenges they face in five areas: academic support services; campus environment; finances and financial aid; succeeding in their courses; and work and personal issues.

Work was the No. 1 challenge reported by students, cited by 34 percent of survey respondents. That was followed by paying expenses (also 34 percent), family and friends (30 percent), online classes (21 percent) and parking on campus (21 percent).

"Many community college students have considerable demands of their time and resources and report that these present obstacles to their college success," the survey report explained. "For example, among the students who reported work-related challenges, 61 percent indicated that their work hours did not leave enough time for study, and an additional 36 percent said that work prevented them from using campus resources. Approximately half reported that their pay was not enough to cover their expenses while in school, and one-third said their work schedule conflicted with class times."

The report pointed out that while online learning can ease the time and resource demands on students, the online environment presents its own challenges. The survey respondents who cited online classes as a top challenge gave a number of reasons for the problem:

  • Difficulty learning material on their own (cited by 53 percent of respondents);
  • Lack of interaction with faculty (44 percent);
  • Difficulty keeping up because of no regular class times (38 percent);
  • Difficulty using course technology (27 percent);
  • Lack of interaction with other students (25 percent); and
  • Difficulty taking exams at testing center (12 percent).

"Convenient online classes are not necessarily the answer to making things better for busy students," the report cautioned, adding that better student support could be part of the answer. "An investment in online instructional support may help improve these classes and alleviate some of the concerns students have about them."

Researchers did find a silver lining: Students overwhelmingly reported a positive community college experience. "Ninety-five percent were very likely or somewhat likely to recommend their college to a friend," the report noted. "Ninety-six percent believe their community college education was worth what they paid or worth more than what they paid. Nearly all believe their college helped them meet their educational goals."

The full report is available on the RISC site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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