Panel Paper: Increasing Degree Attainment of Low-Income Community College Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Coolidge - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Kelly Hallberg and Marianne Bertrand, University of Chicago

Community colleges have the potential to be powerful vehicles for social mobility in the U.S. They enroll nearly half of all post-secondary students in the U.S., a significant number of whom are first-generation or low-income, and the benefits incurred by their graduates are well-documented (Carnevale et al., 2014; The White House, 2015). However, the vast majority of these students (75 percent) do not graduate three years later (Kraemer, 2013).

A better understanding of how to close the completion gap is desperately needed to inform policy. One Million Degrees (OMD), a Chicago nonprofit that supports low-income community college students, may provide key insights into a workable solution. One Million Degrees (OMD) implements the only Chicago-area program that uses a comprehensive approach to serve community college students. Its program supports students financially, academically, personally, and professionally through last-dollar scholarships, skill-building workshops, advising, and coaching. OMD students meet monthly with Program Coordinators, who work with scholars to encourage academic and personal progress. Students also attend monthly workshops that include meeting with a volunteer coach and activities designed to build professional skills. Program Coordinators are embedded on the college campus, allowing students to meet with them on campus and enhancing Program Coordinators’ ability to connect students to additional resources and services through the college.

Not only are graduation rates of its participants three times the state average, but OMD’s wraparound approach is consistent with the limited studies of successful interventions (Scrivener et al., 2014). OMD’s oversubscription of applicants, coupled with its plans to expand its program, presents a rare opportunity to conduct a randomized controlled trial of the program. We examine effects on educational outcomes to answer an essential question: How successful are wraparound student support programs in closing the community college completion gap?

After one year in the program, we draw on administrative data to examine program effectiveness on:

  • Use of college services, as measured by survey data, CCC and Harper College data;
  • Rate of enrollment in a post-secondary institution, as measured by National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data;
  • Enrollment status (e.g., part-time, full-time, quarter-time), as measured by NSC data;
  • Rate of persistence from first semester to second semester for each year enrolled in college, as measured by NSC data;
  • Credit accumulation, measured by CCC and Harper College data; and
  • GPA by semester, as measured by CCC and Harper College data

In addition, we administered a student survey in the spring of 2017 to measure the treatment/control service contrast as well as differences in perceived economic, human, social, and cultural capital between these two groups.

Initial analyses of data from the NSC suggest that the program has a positive and statistically significant impact on full time enrollment as well as persistence to the second term. Analysis of administrative data from CCC and Harper is underway and these analyses will be presented along with analyses of the student survey data.