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Report: Early Momentum Metrics Predict Outcomes for CC Students

Community college outcomes would be higher, according to a new study, if more students met nine "early momentum metrics." These EMMs encompass three areas for year-one students: the pace of credit accumulation during the first semester and first year, completion of gateway courses in math and English, and persistence from fall to spring.

The findings were shared in a new brief published by the Community College Research Center. The goal of the project was to examine how well these nine measures of students' progress in their first year predicted student completion in subsequent years.

Based on analysis of student data from community colleges in three states, the authors found that EMMs predict longer-term success for students. They also discovered that a key factor in low completion rates — and their affiliated equity gaps — is that early momentum doesn't exist for many students. College outcomes would be "substantially higher," the brief reported, if more students met EMMs. The findings suggest that community colleges could use "comprehensive reforms" in their structures and practices "to help more students gain early momentum on their way to earning a credential," wrote the authors.

Early Momentum Metrics

The Community College Research Center analyzed data across the following first-year metrics, to find out how each measure of students' progress predicted completion in subsequent years.

Credit momentum:

  • Completed 6 or more college-level credits in the first semester (6 credits S1)
  • Completed 12 or more college-level credits in the first semester (12 credits S1)
  • Completed 15 or more college-level credits in the first year (15 credits Y1)
  • Completed 24 or more college-level credits in the first year (24 credits Y1)
  • Completed 30 or more college-level credits in the first year (30 credits Y1)

Gateway course momentum:

  • Completed college-level English in the first year (English Y1)
  • Completed college-level math in the first year (Math Y1)
  • Completed both college-level English and math in the first year (English & math Y1)

Persistence momentum:

  • Fall to spring persistence in the first year (Persist S1 S2)

While guided pathways, another important flavor of reform, are being adopted in "hundreds" of schools, the report noted, this kind of transformation takes "several years to implement." As a result, college leaders implementing guided pathways are being forced to rely on "lagging metrics" of student success, such as three- and six-year graduation rates, to understand the impact of the changes. What's needed, the authors suggested, are "leading metrics" that can be measured over a short period. That's where first-year momentum comes into the picture, since those data can be analyzed for student cohorts year-over-year to see how the results play out.

EMM attainment rates among all students at three community college systems

EMM attainment rates among all students at three community college systems. Source: "Early Momentum Metrics: Leading Indicators for Community College Improvement," from the Community College Research Center

Using student transcript data from three community college state systems, the researchers investigated how many students met each EMM, how strong the associations were between the EMMs and student success, and what predicted outcomes were if more students could meet each EMM. The sample size involved students who first entered community college from 2010 to 2012, totaling more than half a million people in 75-plus schools. The three college systems, which were named systems X, Y and Z, had "baseline" three-year completion rates of 28, 20 and 25 percent and six-year completion rates of 32, 22 and 30 percent, respectively.

Among those students who met each EMM at system X, as an example, half earned their community college degree within three years, compared to the three-year baseline rate of just 28 percent for that set of colleges. That jumped to 61 percent for the six-year rate, versus a baseline rate of 32 percent. Rates of success among Black and Latinx students who finished the EMMs, compared to White and Asian students who did, were correspondingly "robust" — findings that suggested, the report explained, "that a promising approach to improving completion rates for Black and Hispanic students, as for other students, is to help them to start strong and gain early momentum."

In addition, each EMM had "additive" impact. "For example, students who complete gateway math or pass 15 credits in year one have greater success than students who do not meet these EMMs," the report stated, "but students who complete gateway math and pass 15 credits in year one have even greater success."

The brief is openly available on the CCRC website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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