Online college degree programs extend the opportunity to get an education and enhance career prospects to people for whom a degree might otherwise be out-of-reach: full-time workers, stay-at-home parents, active-duty military members. However, even as online college degree offerings have expanded rapidly, experts have questioned how well students in online courses perform as compared to their peers in face-to-face classes.

The Results Are In

Researchers at the University of California, Davis investigated outcomes of online college courses at community colleges across the state. In 2015, they reported the results: unfortunately, online courses as a whole were found to be “ineffective” compared to the outcomes of face-to-face courses, USA Today reported.

By some measures, the outcomes of online college courses were on par with traditional classes, if not better. In their first semester, for example, online college students actually get higher grades than their on-campus peers.

After that, though, online outcomes hit a slump. Students in face-to-face classes get higher grades overall, and they’re more likely to complete the course rather than drop out (85 percent finish their classes on campus, but while only 79 percent of online students stick with their studies to the end of the semester). When it comes to the difference between passing and failing, on-campus courses had better outcomes. Researchers found that 63 percent of students pass traditional courses, but just 56 percent pass online classes, according to USA Today.

The Obstacles That Affect Success for Online Students

Why do little more than half of online college students pass their courses? The study shed some light on this, too.

Often, students went into online classes with the wrong mindset. They expected online courses to be easier than courses taken in the classroom, but that wasn’t the case. Instead of putting in the additional time and work to pass a course that was more difficult than they had anticipated, students put off doing their work. By the time they finally got to it, they had to rush to have anything to turn in – or they never turned in the assignment at all. The lack of face-to-face communication with instructors and peers left some students feeling disengaged and even isolated.

Putting Yourself on the Road to Success

There are steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls that some online students encounter and give yourself the best chance at success. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your college course will be easy just because it’s online. Instead of waiting until the last minute – and putting yourself at risk for not finishing your work at all – give yourself plenty of time to complete your assignments. To avoid feeling disengaged by the lack of face-to-face communication, take advantage of opportunities to interact with your peers and instructor, through virtual class discussions and email. Remember that just because some students fail doesn’t mean that online college isn’t a good idea, or that you personally won’t succeed.