Panel Paper: Evaluating An Alternative Approach to Traditional Remedial Coursework At Community Colleges

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 4:10 PM
Georgetown I (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Drew Allen and Aaron Horenstein, City University of New York
A large percentage of students entering community colleges nationwide are underprepared for college-level work and are placed into remedial courses. Many students never successfully complete their remedial coursework, much less earn a degree. As a response, the City University of New York (CUNY) has recently developed the CUNY Start program at several community colleges with the goal of helping students reduce their remedial needs and become better prepared for taking college-level courses. CUNY Start provides intensive preparation in academic reading/writing and math to students admitted to CUNY whose scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests indicate that they are in need of significant remediation. Those who enroll in the program temporarily delay starting degree program studies for an entire semester to take this 15 to 18-week program. CUNY Start seeks both to minimize the amount of required remedial coursework underprepared students must take, and to foster higher levels of persistence and graduation once students start their degree programs.

While descriptive analyses have demonstrated that program participation is associated with higher pass rates and significant gains in test scores on the CUNY Assessment Tests, there has not been a rigorous evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. In order to provide such an evaluation, this paper uses a matched comparison group methodology to address two research questions. First, we examine whether CUNY Start students are more likely than students in traditional CUNY degree programs to gain proficiency in reading, writing, and math. Second, we examine whether CUNY Start participation leads to better postsecondary outcomes. Using data from CUNY’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) and from the CUNY Start program administrative database, we employ propensity score matching to create multiple comparison groups that were similar to CUNY Start students on all observable characteristics (e.g., prior academic performance, demographic characteristics, and initial remedial needs).  After the matching and producing multiple comparison groups, we examine a variety of remedial and postsecondary outcomes for the CUNY Start and comparison group students. We find significant and large positive effects of CUNY Start participation in terms of proficiency gains, credit attainment, GPA, and CUNY system retention. We then use the estimated effects on retention to calculate the long-term effect of CUNY Start on NY State enrollment (FTE) reimbursements for community colleges within the CUNY system. Results will be informative for policies concerning new approaches towards remedial education.