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First-Year College Credits and Strong GPA Big Predictor of CC Student Success

A deep drill into longitudinal data whose collection began in 2002 has uncovered a set of predictors that can help community colleges identify those students most likely to earn a college degree. The strongest clues: whether a student earned a strong grade point average and completed more credits during his or her first year of community college. With each one-point increase in college GPA, the probability of earning a certificate or degree increased nearly 27 percent. And for each college credit earned in the first year, the probability that students would complete a credential increased by nearly 1 percent.

Other contributing factors include whether the student achieved a strong high school GPA, earned dual-enrollment credits and took a college entrance exam before leaving high school.

Those results were shared in a paper published by the American Council on Education's (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS). Education technology company Hobsons provided financial support for the study.

"Identifying Predictors of Credential Completion Among Beginning Community College Students" dug through data collected through the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 by the National Center for Education Statistics. This nationally representative study tracked the paths of students who began 10th grade in 2002; data was collected over a 10-year period.

On the flip side of college completion, Senior Policy Research Analyst Jonathan Turk found that delaying enrollment into community college or registering in an out-of-state school significantly lowered the chances of a student earning a postsecondary credential. Likewise, enrolling part-time was also associated with a 12 percent reduction in the likelihood of college completion compared to full-timers. Students who enrolled in community college within three months of graduating from high school were almost 11 percent more likely to earn a credential than students who delayed.

An aspect of college that had a neutral impact was the frequency with which students met with academic advisers; whether they did or didn't had no significant impact on the probability of earning a degree.

The report also offered broader findings:

  • Women were more likely to earn a college degree than men;
  • Students with higher levels of socioeconomic status were, overall, more likely to earn a credential;
  • "Significant racial differences" in completion surfaced in the data; and
  • Participation in extracurricular activities for those direct-from-high-school students served as an indicator for college success.

Declaring that the research findings "have important implications for policy and practice," Turk offered several recommendations to help guide education leaders as they develop their strategies for increasing college completion — much of it directed at the K-12 level. For example, he suggested that K-12 teachers and administrators do everything they can to make their curriculum "rigorous," and help students understand what college is and how further education can help them pursue their chosen careers.

Turk advised community colleges to develop new models for increasing student success. One example he offered: the guided pathways model, which is a framework for helping students "quickly select a program of study and more clearly understand the steps required in meeting their educational goals."

The researcher also urged community colleges to strengthen their institutional research capacity beyond their efforts for mandated reporting. "Institutional research can play a pivotal role in helping colleges assess the effectiveness of their curricula, academic and student support services, as well as to track the progress of newly implemented success initiatives," Turk wrote.

The report encouraged state and federal policymakers to direct more funding into community colleges in specific ways: to increase "institutional improvement grants," especially for those schools that serve large numbers of disadvantaged students; and to strengthen the Pell Grant program for greater stability year-over-year and with more support for students who are first-generation and low-income.

"Community colleges are and will continue to be at the forefront of ensuring students have access to the benefits of a college education," the report concluded. "Policymakers, education leaders, and researchers must work cooperatively to increase equitable educational opportunities and improve student outcomes by identifying areas in need of innovation, piloting and evaluating interventions, and implementing data-informed policies and practices."

The full report is available on the Hobsons website with registration.

Representatives from the project will be hosting a webinar on Oct. 5 to discuss the findings.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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