Supporting Student Success

April 21, 2014

Beyond issues of affordability, other policies are important when encouraging student persistence and program completion. These include using flexible course delivery options and offering a range of student success services, such as student engagement and support services. 

Some of the promising state approaches to support student success and program completion include:

  • Providing incentives to institutions that offer college success courses and the adults who participate in them.  This includes ensuring that such courses are not penalized under limiting time-to-degree policies, and that they receive full state funding support;
  • Offering incentives to colleges to adopt practices that may increase student success, such as forming learning communities, using student engagement practices and supplying proactive advising;
  • Increasing the flexibility of state postsecondary program approval processes and funding policies to allow innovations such as modularized programs, intensive boot camp-like developmental education programs, hybrid distance and on-campus delivery options, and accelerated formats;
  • Implementing policies that encourage full-time enrollment but are flexible enough to accommodate students who must work to support themselves and their families; and
  • Helping students gain access to critical support services, such as child care and transportation, and focusing on gaps in these supports.  For example, it is important to expand the availability of campus-based child care, including care options for parents who attend college nights and weekends.

National Resources for State Policy Makers

The Price of Persistence: How Nonprofit-Community College Partnerships Manage and Blend Diverse Funding Streams. Maureen Conway. Aspen Institute. (2011).

In this issue of the Courses to Employment newsletter, Update, the authors highlight strategies that community college-nonprofit partnerships use to provide support services for low-income adult students. These strategies include blending diverse local, state, and federal funding streams for a myriad of expenses, including childcare, housing, transportation and books. To develop this brief, the authors collected and analyzed partnerships' financial documents, interviewed program leaders about their funding and service strategies, and conducted focus groups with participants about the supports they received. Using these data in the context of three personal stories from actual students, the report tracks the source of each of the support services they received and how local organizations managed these complex funding streams.

More Guidance, Better Results?  Three-Year Effects of an Enhanced Student Services Program at Two Community Colleges.
Susan Scrivener and Michael J. Weiss. MDRC. (2009).

This rigorous study measures the impact of increased student supports on educational outcomes. Participants in the program—low-income community college students—were provided with enhanced student services and a modest stipend for two semesters. Researchers found that participants, who were randomly assigned to the program, saw improved academic outcomes during the second semester and the semester following the program's completion, but these positive outcomes were not sustained. Authors suggest that more intensive or more diverse supports (such as increased financial aid) might result in longer-term outcomes.

Building Illinois' Workforce of the Future: Recommendations for a Student Support System That Works.
Women Employed's Clear Connections Project. (2009).

This policy brief introduces a vision for an effective, world-class student support system that aims to improve graduation rates for low-income adult students. The brief offers specific policy and program recommendations for both community college leaders and state policymakers and includes national examples of effective programs.

Flexible Learning Options for Adult Students.
Victoria Choitz and Heath Prince. A report by FutureWorks and Jobs for the Future to the U.S. Department of Labor (2008).

This report looks at innovative practices that offer adult learners more flexible access to postsecondary courses and help accelerate their progress through credential programs. The authors profile programs at community colleges, where most adult learners are enrolled, and conclude with strategies for addressing the barriers institutions face when developing and implementing programs targeted to adult learners.

Do Student Success Courses Actually Help Community College Students Succeed?
Matthew Zeidenberg, Davis Jenkins, and Juan Carlos Calcagno. Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University (2007).
College success courses orient students to resources on campus, teach students note-taking, test-taking and time management skills, help with academic planning, and sometimes offer career exploration strategies.  This brief reviews the results of a tracking study of Florida community college students, some of whom took college success courses.  The students who enrolled in “Student Life Skills” courses were more likely than other students to earn a credential, persist in their studies, or transfer to continue their studies.

Promoting Student Success in Community Colleges by Increasing Support Services.
Brandon Roberts and Deborah Povich. Working Poor Families Project (2006).

This policy brief summarizes how colleges and state policymakers can ensure that nontraditional students complete their educations. It offers a range of suggested policy improvements, including increasing and targeting funding for student success, requiring colleges to plan for student success, and aligning other state policies to finance student support services.

What Community College Management Practices Are Effective in Promoting Student Success? A Study of High- and Low-Impact Institutions
Davis Jenkins.  Community College Research Center, Teacher’s College, Columbia University (2006).

In this study, the Community College Research Center examines community college effectiveness in increasing minority student success.  It finds that the more successful colleges have the following characteristics: a general focus on student retention and graduation rather than just on enrollment, well-aligned and proactive student support services, use of experiments on how to improve student success, and use of student data to improve programs and services.

Paths to Persistence:  An Analysis of Research on Program Effectiveness at Community Colleges.
Thomas R. Bailey and Mariana Alfonso.  Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University (2005).

This report provides an overview of research through 2005 in four key areas:  advising, counseling, mentoring and orientation programs; learning communities; developmental education and other services for academically underprepared students; and college-wide reform. This information is then used to provide a helpful framework for thinking about community college practices aimed at increasing persistence and completion. 

Support Success: Services That May Help Low-Income Students Succeed in Community College.
Rogéair Purnell, Susan Blank, with Susan Scrivener, and Reishma Seupersad. MDRC (2004).

This report covers the wide variety of programs that help community college students succeed and gain credentials. It contains an overview of how colleges supported low-income students when the report was released in 2004. It examines high-leverage methods of providing support, highlights promising programs that employ these methods, and identifies the need and opportunities for additional services.

California Community Colleges Extended Opportunity Programs and Services and Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education, 2001-2002
California Community College System. (2002).

This study, although nearly a decade old, is one of the few reports available that evaluates statewide support services for low income or at-risk students in community college. Researchers found that the average credit units attempted and earned by EOPS and CARE students are greater than for other students, and that they were more likely to earn a degree or certificate. However, it found that those students were still less likely to transfer to and graduate from four year colleges.

State Policy Examples

Illinois Student Success Grant. Colleges used this flexible grant to fund a variety of services such as personal counseling, academic and career counseling, tutoring, testing and assessment, mentoring, and retention programs.  (Note:  This initiative is currently not operating due to budget cuts).

For more information see: Investing For Success: Educational Supports for Illinois Community College Students. Women Employed (2006).

Kentucky’s Ready-to-Work program.  A partnership of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the state’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) agency, Ready-to-Work is designed to support the success of TANF students pursuing postsecondary education through college and career coaching, work-study jobs, and peer support.

Washington Opportunity Grants. These are aimed at increasing low-income student access to and success in earning postsecondary credentials at the associate degree level or below, including apprenticeship programs, in high-demand fields. Each year eligible students receive tuition and fees and up to $1,000 for books and supplies. Public colleges receive $1,500 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student in the Opportunity Grant program, which they must use to provide individualized student support services. Early results suggest that this package of financial aid and student success services is helping more students to persist and complete; outcomes are especially promising for part-time students.

Sources of State Data

Improving Lives: State and Federal Programs for Low-Income Adults. This American Council on Education database contains more than 400 state and federal programs that help low-income adults participate in postsecondary education. It is searchable by state and program type.

State Policy Inventory Database Online (SPIDO). This online database maintained by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education contains information on state higher education policies and resources pertaining to accelerated learning options, articulation and alignment, data and accountability systems, retention, remediation, residency, student financial aid and other incentives, and tuition and fees, among other topics.  It is searchable by state and issue.

The NCHEMS Information Center for State Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis. This 50-state database established by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems offers comparative data by state and county for users to explore “How your state is doing” on a host of measures, including affordability, participation, student success, competitiveness and “cross-cutting” information.

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