College Persistence & Completion: What impacts student & institutional success? - FAQ

College Persistence & Completion: What impacts student & institutional success?

Using Propensity Score Matching to Test the Community College Penalty Assumption
To test whether or not a degree completion penalty exists for students who begin their degree in a community college by narrowing the sample to only those students who successfully transfer to a four-year institution
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges Postsecondary Academic Affairs--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Dietrich, Cecile; Lichtenberger, Eric
Organization(s): Radford University; Illinois Education Research Council
Publication: Review of Higher Education
Published on: 12/1/2015
  • After propensity score matching, “community college transfer students were just as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree as four-year rising juniors after controlling for other precollege and environmental factors that impact one’s likelihood of ...

College Selectivity and Degree Completion
To understand the effect of college selectivity on graduation and if selectivity is more influential than the student's personal attributes.
Author(s): Heil, Scott; Reisel, Liza; and Attewell, Paul.
Organization(s): CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment; Institute for Social Research; Graduate Center for the City University of New York
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 8/6/2014
Findings/Results: Researchers found:
  • Weak evidence that institutions raise, via academic selectivity, the graduation rates of students who otherwise would have lower chances of graduating
  • Little support that academic mismatch has a significant impact on U.S...

Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students' Academic Performance and All Students' College Transition
To test an intervention designed to reduce the social-class achievement gap
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence
Author(s): Stephens, Nicole; Destin, Mesmin; Hamedani, MarYam
Organization(s): Northwestern University; Stanford University
Publication: Psychological Science
Published on: 4/9/2014
The intervention consisted of exposing college students to two diverse panels, a standard intervention in which panelists talked about conditions which contributed to their college experience, and the other a difference int...

The Community College Route to the Bachelor's Degree
To understand the factors that account for the gap in BA attainment between students who start at a 4-year college and those who transfer from a community college
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Academic Affairs--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Monaghan, David; Attewell, Paul
Organization(s): Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Publication: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Published on: 3/18/2014
After controlling for college GPA and credits earned, those students who can transfer most of their credits are more likely to earn an B.A. Additionally:
  • Adjusting for differences in observed background characteristics, under...

State Political Culture, Higher Education Spending Indicators, and Undergraduate Graduation Outcomes
To examine whether state higher education finance policy indicators differ according to states' political cultures (i.e., underlying traditions, values, and public policy choices) and to examine how states' higher education financial policy influences student graduation rates (controlling for institutional and economic variables)
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Affordability; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Heck, Ronald H.; Lam, Wendy S.; Thomas, Scott L.
Organization(s): University of Hawaii; Hawaii Pacific University; Claremont Graduate University
Publication: Educational Policy
Published on: 1/2/2014
Findings/Results: Policy activity never takes place in a vacuum. Differing state political and economic contexts concerning postsecondary capacity, patterns of higher education spending, and tuition setting appear to intersect in ways that affect higher education productiv...

America's College Dropout Epidemic: Understanding the Dropout Population
To examine student demographic data to predict the probability of degree completion
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence
Author(s): Velez, Erin
Organization(s): American Institutes for Research
Published on: 1/1/2014
  • Students who drop out of 4-year colleges are similar to students who complete a 2-year degree, in terms of demographics, geographics, family background, and high school achievement.
  • Four-year college dropouts have considera...

The Effect of Postsecondary Coenrollment on College Success: Initial Evidence and Implications for Policy and Future Research
To estimate the extent to which postsecondary coenrollment affects the educational attainment and postsecondary persistence of students beginning at community colleges and 4-year institutions
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence; Postsecondary Academic Affairs--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Wang, Xueli; McCready, Bo
Organization(s): American Educational Research Association
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published on: 9/16/2013
Findings/Results: Findings suggest that coenrollment had a significant positive effect on educational attainment and postsecondary persistence for students who began at community colle...

Looking Beyond Enrollment: Causal Effect of Need-Based Grants on College Access, Persistence, and Graduation
(1) To estimate the impact of student eligibility for the Florida Student Access Grant on college persistence and degree completion; (2) to investigate the interaction between need-based and merit-based aid.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Affordability--Financial Aid; Postsecondary Participation--Access; Postsecondary Students--Low-Income; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Castleman, Benjamin; Long, Bridget
Organization(s): Harvard Graduate School of Education; University of Virginia
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 8/1/2013

Student Outcomes

  • The additional $1,300 in need-based aid increased the probability of completing a bachelor's degree within 150% time (i.e., six years) by 4.6 percentage points, or 22%.

  • Need-elig...

A Major in Science? Initial Beliefs and Final Outcomes for College Major and Dropout
(1) To characterize initial beliefs about major-specific factors; (2) to describe the degree to which beliefs about majors change during college; (3) to examine the determinants of these belief changes; and (4) to describe which beliefs are consistent with observed student performance and future income.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence; STEM
Author(s): Stinebrickner, Ralph; Stinebrickner, Todd
Organization(s): Berea College; University of Western Ontario
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 6/3/2013

Students' Initial College Expectations

  • Students are overoptimistic about the probability that they will graduate. Entering freshman students assign a probability of 13% to dropping out while 37.5% actually do not finish a college ...

Differential Pricing in Undergraduate Education: Effects on Degree Production by Field
To study the efficacy of differential tuition pricing; to estimate the effects of such policies on degree production; to examine potential student reactions to differential pricing based on gender, income, and race/ethnicity.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Affordability--Tuition/Fees
Author(s): Stange, Kevin
Organization(s): University of Michigan
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 6/1/2013
Findings/Results: Engineering was the only major in the sample where the effect of differential tuition pricing was statistically significant. The impact was negative; that is, differential tuition policy decreased the number of degrees produced by institutions. The shar...

Why Students Choose STEM Majors: Motivation, High School Learning, and Postsecondary Context of Support
To study how several high school factors (i.e., math and science exposure, achievement and motivation) affect intent to pursue and enter STEM fields of study. To examine the effect of initial postsecondary education experiences, such as academic interaction, receipt of financial aid, and remediation on STEM intent and enrollment. To explore differences in intent and enrollment by gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Participation; Postsecondary Success; STEM
Author(s): Wang, Xueli
Organization(s): University of Wisconsin - Madison
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 5/21/2013

High School Variables

  • All three 12th-grade variables (i.e., self-efficacy, course-taking, and math achievement) had positive and statistically significant effects on students' intent to pursue STEM majors.
  • The eff...

Higher Education, Merit-Based Scholarships and Post-Baccalaureate Migration
To investigate whether merit aid eligibility makes it more likely for residents to remain in the state in which they were born; to examine whether merit aid makes it more likely that a person obtains at least a baccalaureate degree.
Issue/Topic: Economic/Workforce Development; Postsecondary Affordability--Financial Aid
Author(s): Fitzpatrick, Maria; Jones, Damon
Organization(s): Cornell University; University of Chicago
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 11/1/2012
Findings/Results: Merit Aid and Migration Effects
  • Merit aid eligibility increases the probability that 24 to 32 year olds will live in their states of birth by 0.9%--a positive but statistically insignificant relationship.
  • Interestingly, when lookin...

College for All: Gaps Between Desirable and Actual P-12 Math Achievement Trajectories for College Readiness
This study addresses missing links in the current P-16 education and "College for All" debates by investigating gaps between actual and desirable math achievement trajectories for different college pathways. The goals of the study are twofold: (1) to compare performance standards, benchmarks, and norms for college readiness, and; (2) to assess college readiness gaps among all students as well as among racial and social groups.
Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; P-16 or P-20
Published on: 3/5/2012
Findings/Results: 1. This study revealed large disparities between actual and desirable math achievement levels for college readiness.

2. Math achievement was a good predictor of whether students in P-12 stay on track toward 2 or 4 year college education.

3. ...

What Is Academic Momentum? And Does It Matter?
To measure the degree to which academic momentum early in an undergraduate's college career predicts the student's later degree completion; to assess whether Cliff Adelman's theory of academic momentum has an empirical basis.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Participation--Access; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence
Author(s): Attewell, Paul; Heil, Scott; Reisel, Liza
Organization(s): City University of New York (CUNY)
Publication: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Published on: 3/1/2012
  • The degree attainment gap between students who immediately enrolled and those who delayed matriculation was substantial: a nine point gap for four-year college entrants and an eight point gap for two-year college enrollees.
  • Studen...

Popular but Unstable: Exploring Why State Performance Funding Systems in the United States Often Do Not Persist
To analyze the factors that have led many states to abandon their performance funding systems for higher education; to indicate how states considering performance funding could avoid the pitfalls of other states.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Finance--Efficiency/Performance-Based Funding
Author(s): Dougherty, Kevin; Natow, Rebecca; Vega, Blanca
Organization(s): Teachers College, Columbia University
Publication: Teachers College Record
Published on: 3/1/2012
Findings/Results: Conditions that Expedite Demise of Performance Funding Systems
  • Changes in political culture: loss of key support from previous legislative and gubernatorial champions; change of party control; budget constraints

Do High-Stakes Placement Exams Predict College Success?
To analyze the predictive validity of one of the most commonly used assessments and to examine whether other measures of preparedness, such as high school background and prior college-preparatory units completed, might be equally or even more predictive of college success.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Developmental/Remediation
Author(s): Scott-Clayton, Judith
Publication: Community College Research Center
Published on: 2/15/2012

Using placement exams as a screen actually results in substantially lower accuracy rates than using nothing at all; for example, the number of qualified students who are prevented from accessing college-level courses with the exams out...

Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in U.S. college entry and completion
To describe inequality in college entry, persistence and graduation between students based on class and gender; to indicate how sex differences in attainment challenge conventional explanations of postsecondary inequalities.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Participation--Access; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Bailey, Martha; Dynarski, Susan
Organization(s): University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 12/1/2011
  • In the last seventy years, the United States has seen significant improvements in college enrollment and degree completion, regardless of income or gender.
  • However, inequality in college outcomes also increased substantially, as w...

Competing Explanations of Undergraduate Noncompletion
To examine multiple factors associated with degree completion; estimate the relative effect sizes of these major predictors; examine how predictors vary among different institutional types (e.g., community colleges, four-year institutions grouped by level of selectivity); and, draw implications for policy, theories of degree noncompletion.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Attewell, Paul; Heil, Scott; Reisel, Liza
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 6/1/2011
Community Colleges
  • Academic preparation is not a statistically significant predictor of degree attainment.
  • Financial aid and social integration into college life seem to be the two most influential factors for student's...

The Role of Context in Understanding the Contributions of Financial Aid to College Opportunity
To examine differences in financial aid perceptions and expectations; assess how these perceptions and expectations inform college-related behaviors; evaluate the mediating effect of state and school contexts on student decision-making; and determine whether the study results align with previous findings of the financial aid literature.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Affordability--Financial Aid; Postsecondary Participation--Outreach
Author(s): Perna, Laura
Organization(s): University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
Publication: Teachers College Record
Published on: 5/2/2011
  • Perceptions of and expectations for financial aid inform students' college-related behaviors and this relationship is influenced by characteristics of the school attended and the state aid program.
  • Most participating students ...

Career and Technical Education as Pathways: Factors Influencing Postcollege Earnings of Selected Career Clusters
To investigate the role of career and technical education (CTE) programs in influencing the postcollege earning of students. Additionally, to investigate the relationship between student characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, program of study, and earnings outcomes for students enrolled in community college CTE programs in business, information technology and marketing in the state of Iowa.
Issue/Topic: Career/Technical Education; Economic/Workforce Development--Value of an Education; Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges
Author(s): Compton, Jonathan; Santos Laanan, Frankie; Starobin, Soko
Publication: Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR)
Published on: 4/19/2010


For the three career clusters studied (Business, IT and Marketing), and for all types of students, associate degree completion rates are very low, particularly for male students, non-White students, and, interestingly,...

Catching Up in Community Colleges: Academic Preparation and Transfer to Four-Year Institutions
To measure the extent to which academically unprepared students transfer to four-year institutions; to assess whether successful completion of intermediate outcomes diminishes the role of initial preparation and increases the probability of transfer.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges; Postsecondary Success--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Calcagno, Juan; Roksa, Josipa
Organization(s): Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University; University of Virginia
Publication: Teachers College Record
Published on: 1/1/2010
  • Almost 20% of students who entered community college with poor academic preparation transferred to a four-year institution within 15 terms (5 years), but lagged behind their more academically prepared counterparts, 34% of whom transferred within 5...

Building Bridges for Student Success: Are Higher Education Articulation Policies Effective?
To describe challenges associated with current endeavors to facilitate and measure transfer success; to attempt to resolve some of the inconsistencies in previous research on articulation policies; to illuminate promising paths for the future.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Roksa, Josipa
Organization(s): University of Virginia
Publication: Teachers College Record
Published on: 10/1/2009
  • There is little evidence to date to suggest that statewide articulation policies are effective in facilitating transfer or baccalaureate degree attainment, but that may be less a reflection of the policies themselves and more a reflection of our i...

Do Expenditures Other Than Instructional Expenditures Affect Graduation and Persistence Rates in American Higher Education?
To analyze whether investment growth in non-instructional expenditure categories contributes directly to increased retention and graduation rates; and to measure the degree of variation in student outcomes based on differences in socioeconomic and academic background.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Ehrenberg, Ronald; Webber, Douglas
Organization(s): Cornell Higher Education Research Institute; National Bureau of Economic Research
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research
Published on: 8/1/2009
  • Growth in student service expenditures of $500 per student, on average, would increase an institution's six-year graduation rate by 0.7%.
  • Reallocation of $500 per student away from instructional expenditures and toward student...

Impact of Increased Academic Intensity on Transfer Rates: An Application of Matching Estimators to Student-Unit Record Data
To examine the impact of increased academic intensity in community college on eventual transfer rates.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges; Postsecondary Success--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Doyle, William
Organization(s): Peabody College, Vanderbilt University
Publication: Research in Higher Education
Published on: 1/1/2009

Despite several limitations of the study, the findings further the idea that increased academic intensity does causally impact transfer rates. Specifically, the findings reveal that taking 12 or more credit hours increases the probability of transfer f...

Do Community Colleges Provide a Viable Pathway to a Baccalaureate Degree?
To examine how the outcomes of community college entrants compared with those of similar students who initially entered 4-year institutions within the Ohio public higher education system.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Kurlaender, Michal; Terry Long, Bridget
Organization(s): Harvard University Graduate School of Education; University of California, Davis
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 1/1/2009

The results suggest that there is a disadvantage to students, in terms of degree completion, credit accumulation and the risk for dropping out, to initially entering postsecondary study through community colleges. Moreover, this "penalty" app...

Why Have College Completion Rates Declined? An Analysis of Changing Student Preparation and Collegiate Resources
To examine how changes in student preparedness and changes in college characteristics have contributed to the national decline in college completion.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Bound, John; Lovenheim, Michael; Turner, Sarah
Organization(s): Cornell University; University of Michigan-Department of Economics; University of Virginia-Department of Economics
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper
Published on: 1/1/2009

The findings show that 8-year college completion rates declined nationally from 50.5% to 45.9%. The decline is most pronounced among men who begin college at less-selective public 4-year schools and among students who begin college at a community colle...

Crossing the Finish Line
To focus on overall trends and disparities in educational attainment at public universities,and to use this data to guide the future of public higher education in the United States.
Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; Postsecondary Finance; Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Bowen, William; Chingos, Matthew; McPherson, Michael
Publication: Crossing the Finish Line
Published on: 1/1/2009
Findings/Results: Challenges to overcome
  • The overall level of educational attainment in the United States today is both too low and stagnant.
  • The U.S. Educational system harbors huge dispar...

Baccalaureate Success of Transfers and Rising 4-Year College Juniors
To determine whether community colleges expand enrollment or divert students from attaining a bachelor's degree by examining the effect of socioeconomic status (SES) and institutional selectivity on the bachelor degree completion of transfer students and rising 4-year college juniors.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Institutions--Community/Technical Colleges; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Dowd, Alicia; Melguizo, Tatiana
Publication: Teachers College Record
Published on: 1/1/2009

The diversion effect (community colleges divert students from attaining a bachelors degree) is much smaller than was previously estimated. Traditional-age students who arrive at 4-year colleges through community colleges are not at a disadvantage in co...

Unmasking the Effects of Student Engagement on First-Year College Grades and Persistence
To determine whether student background characteristics and level of student engagement in the freshman year affect student success and persistence.
Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Accountability--Student Learning; Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence
Author(s): Cruce, Ty; Gonyea, Robert; Kinzie, Jillian; Kuh, George; Shoup, Rick
Organization(s): Journal of Higher Education
Publication: Journal of Higher Education
Published on: 9/1/2008
  • Student engagement in educationally purposeful activities is positively related to academic outcomes as represented by first-year student grades and by student persistence into the second year.