Effects of Online Course Load on Degree Completion, Transfer, and Dropout among Community College Students of the State University of New York


  • Peter Shea University at Albany, State University of New York
  • Temi Bidjerano Furman University




online learning, community college, retention, dropout, degree completion higher education


Research suggests that some students are at risk of lower levels of academic performance when studying online compared to students who take coursework only in the classroom.  Community college students appear to be among those that struggle in online settings.  In this paper, we hypothesize that online course load may influence outcomes for such students, especially those at risk for lower levels of degree attainment.  To examine this, we conducted a statewide study using data from the 30 community colleges (n=45,557) of the State University of New York, to understand online course-load effects on degree completion, transfer, and dropout. We conclude that when controlling for covariates known to impact degree completion, on average, community college students who successfully complete online courses nearly double their chances (odds ratio=1.72) of earning a degree or transferring to a 4-year college. However, racial minority students had reduced outcomes and additional research is warranted.

Author Biography

Peter Shea, University at Albany, State University of New York

Dr. Peter Shea is a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York with joint appointments in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice and the Department of Informatics. He is also Associate Provost for Online Learning at UAlbany.  His research focuses on the development of communities of learners in higher education online environments. Dr. Shea has a long history of publications on the topic of online learning in journals such as Online Learning, Computers and Education, The Internet and Higher Education, IRRODL, and is co-author of the book, The Successful Distance Learning Student. He directs a program of research on online learning that has attracted significant external funding from organizations such as the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the US Department of Education. He is the recipient or co-recipient of four national awards including the EDUCAUSE Award for Systemic Improvement in Teaching and Learning and awards from the Sloan Consortium for online and faculty development programs. He is a Sloan-C Fellow in research on online learning and a member of their board of directors. Prior to joining the University at Albany, he was Director of the SUNY Learning Network, one of the largest online higher education systems in the United States with annual student enrollments of more than 100,000. He was recently appointed Associate Provost for Online Learning at the University at Albany.



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Special Conference Issue: AERA Online Teaching and Learning SIG