Examining the Effectiveness of Online Learning Within a Community College System: An Instrumental Variable Approach
Using a large administrative dataset from a statewide community college system, the authors employed an instrumental variable technique to estimate the impact of online versus face-to-face course delivery on student course performance, as indicated by course persistence and final course grade. To control for self-selection bias, distance from each student’s home to the student’s college campus was used as an instrument for the likelihood of enrolling in an online section of a given course. Course fixed effects were added to the instrumental variable model to compare students who took different sections of the same course with different delivery formats, potentially controlling for within- and between-course selection bias. Analyses yield robust negative estimates for online learning in terms of both course persistence and course grade. These results suggest that policymakers and college administrators may need to improve the quality of online learning before enacting policies that would incentivize an accelerated expansion of online enrollments.
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