Investigating the Impact of Online Classes on Undergraduate Degree Completion


  • Sharon Wavle Indiana University
  • Gamze Ozogul Indiana University



Online classes, online learning, graduation rates, degree completion, course completion, retention, student success


This study expands on current research that examines the impact of online courses on retention, degree completion, and student success. The researchers investigated the impact of online courses on degree completion by using existing graduation rate data, course enrollment data, and student grades for undergraduate students at a multi-campus 4-year institution. The researchers aimed to provide advisors, faculty, and administrators with a better understanding of how online classes fit into an undergraduate student’s program of study while completing their degrees within the desired timeframe.  The researchers additionally sought to understand the impact of taking online classes on degree completion while controlling for student demographic and academic factors (e.g. age, first-generation student status, socioeconomic status, SAT/ACT scores, and 1st semester GPA) and campus type (traditional flagship, urban research, and regional). Results indicated that regardless of campus type taking one or more online classes during their program of study increased undergraduate students’ likelihood of successful degree completion. Lastly, to provide further insight, this study compared student performance in online and on campus classes. Results for this comparison were mixed; slightly higher or slightly lower online course grades were obtained by students compared to face-to-face course grades depending on type of campus.

Author Biographies

Sharon Wavle, Indiana University

Associate Director, Decision Support and Reporting

Office of Online Education

Gamze Ozogul, Indiana University

Associate Professor, Instructional Systems Technology

School of Education


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2008). Staying the course: Online education in the United States, 2008. The Sloan Consortium, November 2008.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2015). Grade level: Tracking online education in the United States, 2014. The Sloan Consortium, February 2015.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2017). Digital learning compass: Distance education enrollment report 2017. Babson Survey Research Group, May 2017.

Aragon, S. R. & Johnson, E. S. (2008). Factors influencing completion and noncompletion of community college online courses, The American Journal of Distance Education, 22(3), 146-158, DOI: 10.1080/08923640802239962

Carr, S. (2000). As distance education comes of age, the challenge is keeping the students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 23, 39-46.

Gutman, D. (2012). Six barriers causing educators to resist teaching online, and how institutions can break them. Distance Education, 9(3), 51-56.

Engle, J., & Tinto, V. (2008). Moving beyond access: College success for low-income, first generation students. Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Retrieved from

Harrell, I. L., & Bower, B. L. (2011). Student characteristics that predict persistence in community college online courses. American Journal of Distance Education, 25(3), 178-191.

Hart, M. D. C., Friedmann, E., & Hill, M. (2016). Online course-taking and student outcomes in california community colleges. Education Finance and Policy. 13, 1-58.

Jaggars, S. S., & Xu, D. (2010). Online learning in the Virginia community college system. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.

James, S., Swan, K., & Daston, C. (2016). Retention, progression and the taking of online courses. Online Learning, 20(2), 75-96.

Kaupp, R. (2012). Online penalty: The impact of online instruction on the latino-white achievement gap. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 19(2), 8-16.

McNeil, J., Long, R., & Ohland, M. W. (2014). Getting better with age: Older students achieve higher grades and graduation rates. 2014 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2014 IEEE. 1, 1-5.

National Center for Educational Statistics (2016). 2016-17 Survey materials: Glossary. IPEDS 2016-2017 data collection system. Retrieved from

Picciano, A., Seaman, J., & Allen, I. E. (2010). Educational transformation through online learning: To be or not to be. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 14(4), 17-35.

Pontes, M., & Pontes, N. (2012). Distance education enrollment is associated with greater academic progress among first generation low-income undergraduate students in the US in 2008. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 15(1).

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2014). Does online learning impede degree completion? A national study of community college students. Computers & Education, 75, 103-111.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2016). A national study of differences between online and classroom-only community college students in time to first associate degree attainment, transfer, and dropout. Online Learning, 20(3), 14-25.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2017). Online learning in the 30 community colleges of the State University of New York: Differences in outcomes between classroom and online coursework. In Johnston (Ed.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2017 (pp. 1192-1198). Washington, DC: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved February 9, 2018 from .

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (in press). Online course enrollment in community college and degree completion: The tipping point. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning.

Wisneski, J., Ozogul, G., & Bichelmeyer, B. (2017). Investigating the impact of learning environments on undergraduate students' academic performance in a prerequisite and post-requisite course sequence. The Internet and Higher Education, 32, 1-10.

Xu, D., & Jaggars, S. S. (2011). Online and hybrid course enrollment and performance in Washington State community and technical colleges. (CCRC Working Paper No. 31). New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Xu, D., & Jaggars, S. S. (2013). The impact of online learning on students’ course outcomes: Evidence from a large community and technical college system. Economics of Education Review, 37, 46-57.






Section II