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Community College Students Want More Flexibility, Technology in Their Courses

Portrait of happy motivated smiling hipster student learning for a test or an exam at high school library desk while sitting turn backwards and looking at the camera.

When asked about their preferences for a post-pandemic academic experience, most community college students in a recent survey said they want to take some courses in a fully online format, and many desired a combination of in-person and online instruction. The key takeaway: Students need more flexible learning options, according to the research from Cengage and Bay View Analytics.

The latest installment of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of Cengage in partnership with the Association of Community College Trustees, Achieving the Dream, Phi Theta Kappa, the Online Learning Consortium, the Higher Education Research & Development Institute and College Pulse, polled 2,266 students, 1,248 faculty and 831 administrators at community colleges across the United States in October and November 2021, to better understand the learning experience of community college students during the pandemic and beyond.

During the fall 2021 semester, the majority of two-year student respondents — 78% — were taking online or hybrid classes. Just 22% of students were taking only in-person classes, an increase from 14% in spring 2021. Student preferences for the future included:

  • 68% of respondents said they want the option to take some courses fully online. Among those students currently taking online courses, 78% want the option to take more online courses in the future;
  • 57% want to take some courses as a combination of in-person and online instruction;
  • 63% want to use more digital materials and digital resources in their courses; and
  • 59% want more technology used in fully in-person courses.

The survey also asked students about the key barriers to their success. Among the challenges reported:

  • 50% of respondents said they suffer from stress;
  • 33% cited motivation as a problem;
  • 31% referenced financial issues;
  • 29% cited family or health issues;
  • 24% cited work issues;
  • 16% experienced technology issues;
  • 14% did not receive adequate support in non-academic areas; and
  • 11% did not get enough academic support.

When analyzing the challenges by course modality, the researchers found that students taking in-person courses reported more problems with work and technology issues than students learning online or in a hybrid format. Other factors, such as stress and motivation issues, had roughly equal impact across online, hybrid and in-person students.

Additional findings included:

  • 48% of respondents reported having a positive learning experience in the fall, giving the semester an "A" grade — up from 40% "A" grades in spring 2021;
  • Students taking in-person courses were more likely to give their learning experience an "A" (59% of respondents), compared to students taking hybrid courses (49%) and online courses (44%); and
  • 62% of students reported having a healthy overall sense of personal well-being (including physical, social and emotional wellness) — a significantly lower share compared to administrators (82%) and faculty (80%).

Complete survey results, in the form of an infographic and webinar presentation, are available on the Cengage 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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