Distance learning: the impact of not being a resident student
Fodor, James N.
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The existing literature suggests there are no significant outcome differences between online and traditional degree programs in the civilian sector. Few studies have looked for such differences within military schools and colleges, specifically. Given the growing popularity of online and distance education degree programs, we study the impact of this particular mode of instructional delivery on the academic and subsequent job performance of military officer students enrolled at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). Using propensity score matching, we estimate the effects that being a distance learning (DL) student has on four performance outcomes: grade point average, graduation, promotion, and separation. We further subdivide the sample into various subgroups based on military service branch, warfare community, academic preparation, and school within NPS to determine the heterogeneous effects of DL within each subsample. The DL students studied performed significantly worse than equivalent resident students on every measurement. We found NPS students enrolled in DL degree programs obtain GPAs approximately half a letter grade lower, are less likely to graduate, are less likely to promote, and are more likely to separate from military service than their NPS resident student counterparts. Given these results, it is imperative to conduct additional research to ascertain what makes distance learning inferior to residency at the Naval Postgraduate School.
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