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The "Promises" of higher education: Access

TitleThe "Promises" of higher education: Access
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2013
Corporate AuthorsCampaign for the Future of Higher Education
Date Published10/2013
Type of WorkCFHE Working Papers
Keywordsdigital divide, MOOC, online achievement gap, Udacity

The “promise” that online learning will dramatically expand access to higher education is at the center of the recent push in the MOOC/Online movement. This paper examines research that can help us answer a crucial question: do online courses provide meaningful access to quality higher education for underserved students, who are those most in need of expanded educational opportunities?

Realities of the digital divide (inequities between those who have regular, reliable access to the internet and digital technologies and those who do not) make basic access to online courses much more problematic for some groups. In fact, substantial evidence shows that the digital divide remains a reality for the very students that online promoters claim they want to reach— low-income students, students of color, and academically underprepared students.

Along with a digital divide, there is growing research showing that these same students experience an online achievement gap. While studies show that students, in general, experience reduced performance in online settings, some groups of students—community college, students of color, less well-prepared students–experience significantly higher withdrawal rates and poorer performance than in face-to-face classes.

Research repeatedly demonstrates that online courses work best for students who are academically and technologically well-prepared, mature, and highly motivated. Expanding large online remedial and introductory courses in community colleges and less elite state colleges and universities is misguided at best.

In fact, for most American students, who are increasingly diverse, low-income, and academically less prepared for the rigors of collegiate study, an uncritical rush to “online everything” may, despite the promise, ultimately provide only access to failure.


Copyright © 2012, Campaign for the Future of Higher Education

Refereed DesignationDoes Not Apply
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