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Gender, Ethnicity Impact Online Student Success

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Gender, Ethnicity May Indicated Online Student Success



Do certain types of students have more trouble adapting to online learning? A new study indicates that gender and ethnicity may impact online student success.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center have uncovered evidence suggesting that male students, younger students, black students and students with lower grade point averages tend to struggle more in online classes than their peers.
Researchers Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars explored a dataset containing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State. Their findings are reported in “Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas.”


The study focused in particular on course persistence (drop-out rates) and online learning adaptability in defining and measuring online student success. “Adaptability to Online Learning” factors identified in the study include:

  • Female students tended to do better than males in all courses, but the gap was particularly noticeable in online courses.
  • Overall online course persistence came in at 91 percent, with face-to-face programs averaging 94.5 percent.
  • Younger students had more trouble adapting to online courses than older adults.
  • Black and Hispanics had the highest drop-out rates for online learning.
  • As for course offerings, the humanities and social science proved the most popular, with engineering coming in with the fewest enrollments.


The study also notes that while older students tend to do well in their classes, they were more likely to drop out than younger classmates. Previous studies indicate this may be due to family concerns, namely the work and childcare responsibilities older adults tend to shoulder.


Russell Poulin, deputy director for research and analysis at WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), discusses the study in his blog post, “The Significance of CCRC’s New Research on Online Ed.”
In his article he points out that such research—even if it is concerning—should be welcome.
“Those of us in the distance education community should welcome such research,” he writes. “While we would like to see the same type of attention placed on the face-to-face courses, we should be eager to learn from research and continue to improve.”
The Columbia University researchers did offer suggestions for improved online student retention: “To improve student performance in online courses, colleges could take at least four distinct approaches: screening, scaffolding, early warning and wholesale improvement.”
These suggestions include online learning workshops, treating online courses as a privilege rather than a right, tracking student involvement and improving the quality of online course offerings.
The study serves as a reminder that online education requires a learning curve and that students of all ages and backgrounds must be prepped for the challenge.


Rachel Wang


is a writer, editor and producer with a background in journalism and online media. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science and specializes in online learning news and trends for the Get Educated news team.