Many Colleges Can’t Track Completion Rates, Online-Course Survey Finds

Students are somewhat less likely to complete online courses than those taught in classrooms, a survey of online programs by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education has found. But the survey also found that many colleges have trouble keeping track of how many students complete courses of either kind.

Among 225 responses included in the survey, 65 percent “were not able to provide an on-campus rate and 55 percent did not report an online rate” for course completion, according to a summary of findings. “If institutions wish to improve course completion, they will need to collect these statistics,” the authors of a report on the survey results wrote. “It’s hard to improve what is not measured.”

The “2013 Managing Online Education Survey” was conducted by the commission’s nonprofit Cooperative for Educational Technologies. Survey respondents included two- and four-year institutions in the United States and Canada. Among the findings:

  • Institutions that offer both on-campus and online courses and were able to report completion rates said that about 5 percent fewer students completed online courses than traditional courses.
  • More than 85 percent of responding institutions have adopted standards of some kind for their online courses. In more than half the cases, the standards are those of a regional accrediting agency.
  • More than 83 percent of respondents said “the vast majority” of online-course content had been developed by faculty members at the institutions offering the courses, despite “the emergence of licensed content by publishers and ‘open content’”—content that’s free for anyone to use. The survey also found that about 60 percent of institutions “use open content, but in only a few courses.”

The survey results also include findings about reviews of existing courses, student-support services, meeting the needs of students with disabilities, and other topics.

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