Research in Higher Education

, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 244–269 | Cite as

Selection into Online Community College Courses and Their Effects on Persistence

  • Nick Huntington-Klein
  • James Cowan
  • Dan Goldhaber


Online courses at the college level are growing in popularity, and nearly all community colleges offer online courses (Allen and Seaman in Tracking online education in the United States, Babson Survey Research Group, Babson Park, 2015). What is the effect of the expanded availability of online curricula on persistence in the field and towards a degree? We use a model of self-selection to estimate the effect of taking an online course, using region and time variation in Internet service as a source of identifying variation. Our method, as opposed to standard experimental methods, allows us to consider the effect among students who actually choose to take such courses. For the average person, taking an online course has a negative effect on the probability of taking another course in the same field and on the probability of earning a degree. The negative effect on graduation for students who choose to take an online course is stronger than the negative effect for the average student. Community colleges must balance these results against the attractive features of online courses, and institutions may want to consider actively targeting online courses toward those most likely to do well in them.


Community college Online education Distance learning Quasi experiment 



We thank the State of Washington’s Education Research and Data Center for access to data. This paper is part of the Postsecondary Education and Labor Market Program at the Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at AIR. This research was supported by the CALDER postsecondary initiative, funded through grants provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an anonymous foundation to the American Institutes of Research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsCalifornia State University FullertonFullertonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Education Data and ResearchSeattleUSA

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