8-Week Online Courses

My (almost former) college started offering several 8-week online courses in the fall of 2009 that would allow a student to work on 2 courses at a time, for 8 weeks at a time, and still complete the Associate of Arts degree in 2 years. This was one of the outcomes of our Flexible Learning Options action project. The slideshow below contains data about completion rates, grades earned, and student feedback about the 8-week offerings.

Highlights include:

  • During the 2010 academic year, there were 2,477 enrollments in 8-week online courses and 7,470 enrollments in all other online courses (mostly of the 16-week, full-term variety).
  • Students in the 8-week sections completed the courses with a grade of C or better 82.2% of the time, compared to 78.1% for the full-term courses.
  • Students in the 8-week sections earned a GPA of 2.93 compared to 2.75 in the full-term courses (looking at GPA in those courses only).
  • Students enrolled in summer school and the first 8-weeks of the regular semesters had better completion rates (about 85%) than those registered in either full-term courses (78%) or courses during the second 8 weeks of the regular semesters (75%).
  • In year 2 of the offerings, two-thirds of the students said they were aware that they were registering for a shorter course at the time of their registration. This was an increase from 56% in the first year.

One of the main reasons that we implemented the 2-by-8 offerings was to make it more likely that students would complete the course. That appears to be true for those sections offered during the first 8 weeks of a 16-week semester, however it appears to be slightly less likely that they will complete the course if it scheduled for the second 8 weeks of the semester. Someone should be paying attention to this going forward. Just saying.

Online Developmental Courses

I recently attended a MnSCU conference where the keynote speaker was Dr. Hunter Boylan from the Center for Developmental Education. The title was “Best Practices in Developmental Education.” During the question and answer session at the end of the presentation, an audience member asked him to share information related to examples of good practice in offering developmental courses via online delivery.

His quick retort was basically to the effect of “there aren’t any.” I actually don’t know whether there are any examples that I would consider to be best practices, but I think that many people in the audience translated his response to mean something like this: “I don’t have any examples because there can’t possibly be any.” I repeat, he didn’t actually say that, but I believe that is what many people heard.

He went on to say that the completion rates (or success rates) in online developmental courses are abysmal. Way below the rates for on-ground courses. That may be true in many places, but it’s not true at my college. I’m not here to say that my college has a best practice in online developmental courses, but I am here to share some info about our online courses.

First, a little history.

  • Fall 2002 was the 1st term that we offered the three developmental math courses online
    • MATH 0450: Pre-Algebra (23 online sections in total have now been taught)
    • MATH 0460: Algebra I (38 total online sections taught)
    • MATH 0480: Algebra II (30 total online sections taught)
  • Spring 2004 was the 1st time we taught online ENGL 0460: Fundamentals of Writing II
    • Writing II has been taught online a total 19 times
    • ENGL 0450: Writing I has been taught online 4 times, starting in Spring 2006
  • Spring 2005 was the 1st time we offered online READ 0460: Reading Strategies II.
    • Has been taught online a total of 17 times
  • All of the instructors for these courses also teach sections of these classes on-ground, or have many times in the past. One ENGL instructor is now 100% online, but she previously taught the same courses on campus.

I decided to pull the most recent data about course completions, grades, and GPA in these developmental courses. During the 2009-2010 academic year, 510 students registered (past the drop/add period) for the online courses and 2,226 students registered for the on-ground courses. Here’s a few of the data points:

  • Course withdrawal rates were identical at 15.7% for both groups.
  • More A’s were given in online courses: 25.1% to 21.3%.
  • More F’s were given in on-ground courses: 17.5% to 16.8%.
  • GPA in these courses was 2.37 for online and 2.31 for on-ground.
  • Measuring success as all passing grades (A-D), 67.5% online to 66.8% on-ground.
  • Measuring success as C or better: 62.3% for on-ground to 60.4% for online.

Here are a couple of charts based on breaking down each developmental course during the year into two buckets: online and on-ground.


I realize that this begs for answers to many more questions, such as:

  • How did these students perform in subsequent courses in that discipline?
  • What were the term-to-term or year-over-year persistence rates for the two groups?
  • How would these students have performed on identical assessments if given to both groups?
  • Could the online students have attended on-ground if online wasn’t available?
  • For how many online students was this entry into college their only opportunity for access?
  • How many online students would have done better in an on-ground course, and vice-versa?
  • etc. etc. etc.

I am planning to look into some of the data related to persistence and future success rates in follow-up courses. I’ll report back on what I find. Don’t hold your breath, it might take me a while to get around to it.

Enrollment Growth – All Online

Here’s an interesting chart that depicts the enrollment growth over an 8 year period at Lake Superior College. It is based on the the number of FYE, or full-year equivalent enrollment which is based on a full-time (very full-time) student taking 30 credits per year.

Looking at the green columns and arrows, you’ll see that the total enrollment increased from 2,923 to 3,675 FYE, or an increase of 25.7%. That’s a rather modest increase over an 8-year period, compared to gains by many community colleges, both inside and outside of Minnesota.

You’ve probably noticed the red columns by now, which represent the increase of on-ground and hybrid enrollment from 2,699 to 2,700. I guess you can say that the on-ground enrollment has been flat – as in, completely flat from the beginning to the end of that 8-year period..

The increase of 752 FYE has come as a result of the online enrollments at the college. This data indicates several things to me, including:

  • Our traditional classrooms were basically full during prime time (daytime, not too early and not too late) back in FY02 and they are still full today. We actually have a few more classrooms on campus today than in 2002, but only a few.
  • In other words, we weren’t going to get this enrollment growth on campus due to a lack of classroom space at time when people want to or are able to attend.
  • All this enrollment growth has been achieved without making our parking shortage any shorter. Basically.
  • Online enrollments at LSC have not taken away from face-to-face enrollments, which has always been one of the biggest fears of those faculty and administrators who were slow to buy into the value of online learning.
  • Without this enrollment growth, the college would have been in much more dire financial straights. The whole college has benefited from the growth of online learning.