The gap between Latino and White student achievement in online classes

Despite a substantial body of research on the effectiveness of distance education at the post-secondary level, little is known about the impact of online course delivery on the achievement gap. In California, the gap between white and Latino post-secondary student outcomes is significant and persistent, with Latino students overrepresented in community colleges and underrepresented in transfers to four-year institutions. There is a broad consensus in the literature that online courses produce outcomes at least as good as face-to-face courses. However, in California community colleges, students enrolled in online classes don’t do as well, in the aggregate, as their peers in face-to-face classes, experiencing lower completion rates and lower success rates. This explanatory, mixed methods study disaggregates statewide outcome data to assess the impact of online instruction on the achievement gap between white and Latino community college students, and examines factors contributing to this inequity. Online instruction was found to significantly exacerbate the achievement gap, with Latino students experiencing a nine percentage point lower success rate, grades that average two-tenths of a grade point lower, and withdrawal rates over twice as high, as Latino students in face-to-face sections of the same classes. Interviews with Latino students enrolled in online courses provided insight into the importance of relationships to Latino student success. The absence a strong student-instructor relationship was identified as the key difference between their face-to-face and online educational experience.