December 16, 2021

As Community College Enrollments Decline, New Research Shows Students Want More Flexibility in Course Format

Ongoing Digital Learning Pulse Survey, Conducted by Bay View Analytics on Behalf of Cengage and Partners, Evaluated Digital Learning at Two-Year Institutions in the Wake of COVID-19

BOSTON—December 16, 2021 — Community colleges serve a higher number of marginalized student populations, making it particularly concerning that enrollment at community colleges has dropped by nearly 15% since the pandemic began. New research from Cengage and Bay View Analytics looks at the learning experience of community college students and what they want for future courses. The latest installment of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey found that the majority of community college students today are taking online or hybrid courses and the majority give their learning experience good marks. When it comes to how community college students want to learn in the future, most say they want more digital options and at least some courses fully online.

The Digital Learning Pulse Survey is an ongoing research project to understand how the pandemic is changing higher education. The survey had more than 4,300 respondents across higher education – 2,266 students, 1,248 faculty and 831 administrators, and was conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of primary partner and underwriter Cengage, as well as the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Achieving the Dream (ATD), Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the Higher Education Research & Development Institute (HERDI) and College Pulse.

“Community college students are typically non-traditional, meaning they manage many pressures in addition to their course work – such as family care and full-time work. They need access to quality education that is flexible and affordable,” said Fernando Bleichmar, Executive Vice President and General Manager for U.S. Higher Education at Cengage Group. “We’re excited to provide ongoing support for schools as they continue to experiment with new models and digital resources that deliver on students’ need for flexibility and accessibility.”


Key takeaways from the survey include:

  • In-person learning increased from Spring 2021 to Fall 2021: While the majority of two-year students today take online or hybrid classes (78%), more students are taking only in-person classes this Fall (22%) compared to last Spring (14%).
  • Students give higher marks for learning experiences in Fall 2021 vs. Spring 2021. Nearly half (48%) of all students gave Fall 2021 learning an “A" grade, compared to 40% “A” grades for Spring 2021.
  • Students more satisfied with in-person learning but want flexibility: Students who are taking in-person-only courses were more likely to give their learning experience an “A” (59%), compared to students in online courses (44%) and those in hybrid courses (49%). However, students taking only in-person courses reported more problems with work and technology.
  • Students report less well-being than faculty or administrators: Sixty-two percent of students reported having a feeling of personal well-being compared to 80% of faculty and 82% of administrators.
  • Majority of students prefer some courses fully online and want more digital tools. The majority of two-year students (68%) want to take some courses fully online post-pandemic. Sixty-three percent of students want more digital materials and resources in their courses.


“For all of the disruption that COVID-19 has caused for students, community college students continue to believe that their educational needs are being well-met. In addition, students appreciate many of the changes that the move to online has produced and desire more online options in the future,” said Dr. Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and Director of Bay View Analytics.

“Understanding the unique challenges and needs of community college students is critical to holistically and equitably supporting their success during their academic journeys,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of ATD. “We are excited to be a partner in this research effort that aligns with ATD’s deep commitment to building stronger pipelines to and through postsecondary education.”

"The latest Digital Learning Pulse Survey findings are both heartening and useful for community college leaders," said ACCT President and CEO Jee Hang Lee. "Our students are satisfied with the quality of instruction they receive, which is most important. The survey helps us to understand that students throughout the country need more flexible learning options, including more online courses and digital course materials, to accommodate their busy lifestyles."

“Community colleges have always worked to meet students where they are and this research tells us exactly where today’s students are and what they need from us,” said Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner. “In addition to providing college leaders with insight into how students prefer to learn, this research highlighted that our students are struggling with feelings of personal well-being. As a community of community college leaders, it is our job to listen and to be responsive to their needs—academically, personally, and socially.”

Survey findings were presented in a free webinar “Student, Faculty, and Administrator Perspectives on Impactful Digital Learning in the Community College” and featured a discussion with lead researcher Dr. Jeff Seaman of Bay View Analytics, as well as leaders from ACCT, Dodge City Community College and a student at the Community College of Beaver County. Click here to access the recording.

For complete survey results and to download the infographic visit:



The Digital Learning Pulse Survey: Student, Faculty, and Administrator Perspectives on Digital Learning in the Community College, was developed by Bay View Analytics in partnership with leading online learning organizations and underwritten by Cengage. It is based on responses from 2,266 higher education students, 1,248 faculty, and 831 administrators collected between October 20 and November 8, 2021.

About Bay View Analytics

Bay View Analytics is a statistical research firm with a focus on survey design, implementation, and analysis. Formerly known as the Babson Survey Research Group, the scope of Bay View Analytics’ consulting engagements includes scientific statistical analyses, clinical trial statistics, and survey designs for a range of topics, with a particular focus on online education. Bay View Analytics has been conducting research and publishing annual reports on the state of online education in U.S. higher education for thirteen years. Visit for more information.

About Cengage

Cengage, the U.S. Higher Education business of global education technology company Cengage Group, serves millions of instructors, learners and institutions. We deliver affordable, high-quality digital products and personalized support to power learning individually and at scale. Our customer-centered approach enables innovation, including Cengage Unlimited, the first and only all-access digital subscription for textbooks and course materials. Our textbooks, homework tools, and flagship online learning platforms, MindTap and WebAssign, help educators and students achieve their goals. Visit us at or find us on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.