April 28, 2021

Survey: College Students More Likely than Instructors to Give Pandemic Learning an “A” Grade and Prefer Some Courses be Fully Online Post-Pandemic

The Fourth Digital Learning Pulse Survey, Conducted by Bay View Analytics on Behalf of Cengage and Online Learning Partners, Evaluates How Higher Education is Changing in the Wake of COVID-19

BOSTON—April 28, 2021 —The higher education industry navigated many challenges over the last year, including the transition to online learning. As students, faculty and administrators reflect on the last year, the majority actually give pandemic learning a decent grade. In fact, more students gave pandemic learning an “A” grade, while more faculty and administrators gave it a “B” grade, according to the fourth and final installment of the Digital Learning Pulse Survey, a four-part series to better understand the needs of colleges during COVID-19.

The survey of 1,486 students and 1,286 faculty and administrators across 856 institutions was conducted by Bay View Analytics on behalf of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies), University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA) and primary partner and underwriter Cengage, a global education technology company.

“Digital learning was already growing, and the pandemic greatly accelerated that. It also increased everyone’s comfort level and capability with online learning and digital tools,” said Fernando Bleichmar, Executive Vice President and General Manager for U.S. Higher Education at Cengage. “Students continue to face pressures and are questioning the value of higher education, but they clearly see the benefits and flexibility that digital learning can offer. Now colleges and universities need to find an affordable way to meet students where they are in their journey.”

Key takeaways from the survey include:

  • Students, faculty and administrators are aligned on key student challenges, differ on institutional support: Students, faculty and administrators all agreed that “stress,” “level of motivation,” and “having time to do coursework” were students’ top challenges this spring, though students saw institutional support (or lack thereof) as a bigger problem than faculty or administrators.
  • More students give pandemic learning an “A” grade compared to faculty or administrators: Students, faculty and administrators graded how well their courses met education needs during Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, with more students giving As, and more faculty and admins giving Bs:
    • Fall 2020:
      • “A” Grade – 43 percent of Students; 36 percent of Faculty; 18 percent of Admins
      • “B” Grade – 30 percent of Students; 45 percent of Faculty; 56 percent of Admins
      • “C” Grade – 16 percent of Students; 18 percent of Faculty; 23 percent of Admins
    • Spring 2021:
      • “A” Grade – 47 percent of Students; 43 percent of Faculty; 25 percent of Admins
      • “B” Grade – 29 percent of Students; 46 percent of Faculty; 56 percent of Admins
      • “C” Grade – 13 percent of Students; 10 percent of Faculty; 16 percent of Admins
  • Students more positive about online learning: The majority of students are more optimistic today than pre-pandemic about online learning (57 percent) and digital materials (52 percent). Nearly half of students (48 percent) are more optimistic about hybrid courses.
  • Students more likely to want some courses delivered fully-online post-pandemic, and preferences differ across format and respondent group.
  • Preference for some courses to be fully-online:
    • 46 percent of students strongly agree; 27 percent somewhat agree
    • 32 percent of faculty strongly agree; 21 percent somewhat agree
    • 15 percent of admins strongly agree; 25 percent somewhat agree
  • Preference for some courses in hybrid format:
    • 33 percent of students strongly agree; 35 percent somewhat agree
    • 30 percent of faculty strong agree; 27 percent somewhat agree
    • 25 percent of admins strongly agree; 37 percent somewhat agree

Flyer for Digital Learning Pulse Survey. It states: Pandemic-Era Report Card as an orange heading. A blue sub-header reads: Students, Faculty and Administrators Reflect Upon the Academic Year. It notes this survey included higher education students, faculty and administrators. 

Download full survey infographic here.

“These results will be reassuring for faculty and administrators,” said Dr. Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and Director of Bay View Analytics. “Their concern for student well-being and the quality of their education was very evident in our previous surveys, and it’s clear from the students’ responses that they valued this effort, and thought it was largely successful.”

“Student perspectives regarding their preferences and perceptions of quality are critical as we plan strategically for helping faculty leverage the professional development they’ve received in the past year,” said Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer of OLC. “Blended learning pedagogical practices are well poised to help bridge the gap between student access and success, and we’re re-imagining programming and resources that position faculty and staff to thrive in this space.”

“Some have worried that the remote learning experiences offered during the pandemic would negatively reflect on courses that are online by design. These results seem to contradict our assumptions based on anecdotal information. When ¾ of students and more than half of faculty want to experience at least some courses fully online, the key takeaway is that the pandemic did not threaten but in fact accelerated the long-term growth, acceptance, and desirability of online learning, and those numbers will only improve, as emergency remote offerings are rebuilt as modern online courses and programs,” said Robert Hansen, Chief Executive Officer of UPCEA.

“The students surveyed understand and appreciate the value of their online learning experience,” said Russ Poulin, Executive Director of WCET. “This is encouraging considering that many of them were actually involved in an emergency ‘remote’ experience in a class not designed to be offered in that format. In the future, those students will greatly appreciate taking online courses from faculty prepared to teach in the modality with curriculum designed to maximize learning at a distance.”

Survey findings will be presented in a free webinar “One Year Later – Higher Education Students, Faculty, and Institutions Reflect on Digital Learning” today, Wednesday, April 28 at 2:00 pm ET. The webinar will feature a discussion with lead researcher Jeff Seaman of Bay View Analytics; Jennifer Mathes of OLC; Dr. Bernard Polnariev, Union County College Associate VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Scotch Plains Campus; and Nia Williams, an Ivy Tech Community College student. Click here to register for the webinar or to receive the recording.

For complete survey results and to download the infographic visit: www.cengage.com/digital-learning-pulse-survey.


The survey of higher education students, faculty and administrators to understand institutions’ use of digital materials and views on online learning was conducted between March 30 – April 12 by Bay View Analytics in partnership with four leading online learning organizations and underwritten by Cengage.

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 https://bayviewanalytics.com for more information.

About Cengage

Cengage, a global education technology company serving millions of learners, provides quality digital products and services, equipping students with the skills and competencies needed to advance their careers and improve their lives. We serve the K-12, higher education, professional, library, English language teaching and workforce training markets worldwide. Our industry-leading products and services make education more accessible and affordable, including Cengage Unlimited, the first-of-its-kind all-access digital subscription service. Visit us at www.cengage.com or find us on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

About WCET

WCET – the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, is the leader in the practice, policy, & advocacy of digital learning in higher education. WCET is a member-driven non-profit which brings together colleges, universities, higher education organizations, and companies to collectively improve the quality and reach of technology-enhanced learning programs. Learn more at https://wcet.wiche.edu/.


UPCEA is the association for professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, the association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA builds greater awareness of the vital link between adult learners and non-traditional learners and public policy issues. Visit www.upcea.edu.


The mission of the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA) is to measure the evolution of digital learning at publicly funded post-secondary institutions in Canada and to assess its impact on employment, skills development and digital competencies across the country. Learn more at http://www.cdlra-acrfl.ca/.

About Online Learning Consortium

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) is a collaborative community of education leaders and innovators, dedicated to advancing quality digital teaching and learning experiences designed to reach and engage the modern learner – anyone, anywhere, anytime. OLC inspires innovation and quality through an extensive set of resources, including, best-practice publications, quality benchmarking, leading-edge instruction, community-driven conferences, practitioner-based and empirical research and expert guidance. The growing OLC community includes faculty members, administrators, trainers, instructional designers, and other learning professionals, as well as educational institutions, professional societies and corporate enterprises. Visit http://onlinelearningconsortium.org for more information.