As the debate about distance education fee continues, leaders in the field are beginning to explore additional questions around the value of online courses within our distance education programs. At the same time, post-secondary institutions are pressured to ensure students are graduating in four years. This has led to the following question: Do online courses support graduation rates?

To address this question, several Florida universities pulled data to explore the impact of online courses upon graduation rates for FTIC freshman. For the 2014/15 cohort, University of Central Florida discovered the higher the percentage of online courses taken, the less time towards graduation. The 100% face-to-face graduate was 4.33 years. Those students who took up to 20% of their courses online graduated in 4.27 years. Students taking between 21 to 40% of their course graduated in 4.13 years. The number of students at higher percentage rates was too small to truly evaluate impact (Cost of Online Learning Report, 2016).

FAU has taken notice of this trend. As a part of the student success initiatives shared in our work plan at the Florida Board of Governors meeting, eLearning plays a role in improving our performance on the state metrics. Online courses make sense for our students. Many students are very aware of the cost to attend a university and unwilling to borrow money to pay for their education. Online courses adapt to student part-time work schedules allowing them to increase the number of courses taken each semester. At FAU, the closer students are to graduation the likelihood of taking an online course increases. For spring 2016 semester, 580 freshmen, 1944 sophomores, 5049 juniors, and 9156 seniors took at least 1 online class. Approximately 66% of FAU’s 30,000 students took online classes in one semester.

What can departments do to support better graduation rates using distance learning? Consider your curriculum within your degree programs. What courses could a senior, a junior, or sophomore student take online? Can courses be delivered in a hybrid model? Then check out our services on the eLearning website for assisting your department in designing high quality distance learning courses.