New From NBER: Increasing Community College Completion Rates Among Low-Income Students

January 12, 2018

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Title: Increasing Community College Completion Rates Among Low-Income Students

Authors: William N. Evens, Melissa S. Kearney, Brendan C. Perry, James X. Sullivan

Date: December 2017

A recent report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) details the early results of a randomized controlled trial on the effectiveness of a comprehensive case management intervention designed to aid low-income community college students.

For this trial, beginning in 2013, students at a community college in Texas were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups. In the first treatment group, students were enrolled in the Stay the Course (STC) program, which matched each student with a trained social worker that provided students with coaching, mentoring, and referral services.

These so-called navigators helped students overcome many of the individual barriers previously identified as impeding completion, including finding affordable child care, selecting appropriate courses that kept them on track for graduation, locating additional social services in their communities, and making more informed decisions about upward transfer to four-year colleges. The case management services that were provided by these navigators were considered to be substantially more intensive than what is typically provided by academic counselors at the community college. In addition, they had access to emergency financial assistance funds (EFA) for non-academic expenses.

Students assigned to the second treatment group were given access to the same EFA funds, but they did not receive the case management services provided by STC and instead relied on traditional student advising services provided by the college. The final treatment group served as the control population.

Where previous studies have examined how greater advising and counseling programs coupled with greater financial assistance can increase complete rates for low-income community college students (e.g. MDRC’s “Opening Doors” and the City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), this study was uniquely interested in whether comprehensive case management from social service providers, instead of college counselors, would result in increased completion rates.

After six semesters, students participating in the STC program were more likely to still be enrolled their degree program or to have graduated. While point estimates were positive for both sexes, they were not statistically significant. However, female students demonstrated the most benefit from having access to the STC program. When compared to the control group, STC women had a 7.4 percentage point increase in earning an associate degree. Additionally, there was no positive effect for students who were only given access to the EFA funds but not the intensive counselling services.

Download a copy of the report here.

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