Student Performance in Online Classes at a Hispanic-Serving Institution: A Study of the Impact of Student Characteristics in Online Learning

Rebecca S Cottrell


As online enrollment increases in the United States, it is important to understand the impact of course modality on student outcomes. In particular, there has been limited research on the effect of course enrollment at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI). The current study evaluated the effect of online course enrollment on student grades and on student withdrawal rates by comparing outcomes in online and face-to-face classes. The main innovation of this study is to use propensity score analysis to control for 15 different student characteristics as a way to control for the selection bias introduced when students self-select into different course modalities. The study used data from a large, public, HSI in the mountain west during the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years. Baseline results on a two-sample t-test indicated that online students have significantly higher course grades, and non-significantly different withdrawal rates before controlling for student characteristics. The study used a propensity score analysis (PSA) to control for 15 confounding covariates after testing three different PSA models: near-neighbor matching, Mahalanobis’ metric, and optimal matching. After evaluating each model for validity and sensitivity, a near-neighbor 1:2 matching PSA shows a non-significant difference in student grades, and higher withdrawal rates in online classes than face-to-face classes. Given these results, institutions should ensure that they are providing adequate academic support for online students to improve retention and success rates for online students.


Distance education; Online education; Higher education; Success rates; Educational indicators; Propensity score analysis

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