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Report: Online Completion Rates Only Trail On-Campus Rates Slightly

Completion rates for on-campus courses are only slightly higher than those for online courses, according to a new report from the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

The survey, Managing Online Education 2013: Practices in Ensuring Quality, found that among all responses on-campus course completion rates were 3 percent higher than online course completion rates. When comparing completion rates only from respondents representing institutions offering both on-campus and online courses, rates for on-campus courses were 5 percent higher.

Among 10 completely online institutions surveyed, only four provided completion rates, which averaged 89 percent, significantly higher than the 81 percent average completion rate for on-campus courses among all respondents.

Though the study's authors did suggest that the higher completion rates at online-only institutions may point to lessons to be learned from them, they also noted that, "The finding on course completion rates were based on the data presented to us. Due to the large number of non-responses, drawing firm conclusions about these rates must be done with caution."

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Sixty-five percent of respondents were unable to provide completion rates for on-campus courses and 55 percent did not report completion rates for online courses;
  • More than 85 percent of respondents told researchers they had adopted standards or best practices for online courses;
  • Though approximately 60 percent of respondents said their institution uses open content for courses, 83 percent said the "vast majority" of course contentwas developed by faculty;
  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents said their institution requires new online faculty to participate in some kind of development prior to teaching their first course online;
  • New courses are slightly more likely to be reviewed, at 53 percent, than existing courses, at 48, according to respondents;
  • Only 22 percent of respondents said their institution requires students to take an orientation prior to online classes;
  • Most respondents, 89 percent, said their institution provides library and learning resource services for online students, and another 9 percent said they offer partial services;
  • Fifty-nine percent of respondents said their institution provides tutoring services for online learners, and another 29 percent said they offer partial tutoring services for distance learners;
  • Only 30 percent of respondents said around-the-clock technical support was available to their online students;
  • Sixteen percent of responding institutions reported that they have no policy regarding students with disabilities and online courses and 36 percentsaid they rely on faculty to provide support for disabled students; and
  • Forty-one percent of responding institutions said they use technology to verify the identities of online students for assessments and 40 percent said they use proctoring.

"Institutions with online courses are taking many steps to improve both the instructional and out-of-class experience both for faculty and students," wrote Russell Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis at WCET, in an executive summary of the findings. "Much effort is spent on adopting and implementing practices that are based on 'best practices' developed by local, regional or national groups."

"As is the case with all of higher education," Poulin added, "there is room for improvement. Perhaps the needed improvement is not as much as some critics might claim."

The full report is available at

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at

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