School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Jeffrey Savage


STEM, Biology, Student Success, Attrition, Online, In-person, VCCS, Community College


Biology | Education | Science and Mathematics Education


Community colleges have a significant role in preparing students for STEM-related careers through certificates, degrees, and transfers to four-year institutions. In addition, online education is a growing mode of higher education, particularly for community college students. However, community college and online students are both at a high risk of attrition and show a lower success rate for degree completion. The purpose of this study was to identify differences in attrition and success between students in online and in-person biology courses at Virginia community colleges. Also, this study addressed downstream effects of online education by examining course completion of second-semester biology students. A correlational research design was used to examine student success of general biology students enrolled online versus in-person. In this study, the predictor variable (i.e., delivery mode) was used with three criterion variables of interest: course attrition, successful course outcome, and successful course outcome of subsequent general biology course. A significant difference was detected between course attrition and successful course completion for first-semester biology online students versus in-person students. Online students showed a significantly greater probability of withdraw and significantly lower success than in-person students. However, there was no significant difference in successful course completion of second-semester biology students. As the development of online lab science courses continues, the quality of courses must be improved in order to close the achievement gap. Research comparing online and in-person courses should be continued to monitor the achievement gap as improvements are made. In addition, a study comparing student success in online lab science courses between 2-year community colleges and 4-year institutions is recommended.