Teachers College, Columbia University

Improving Community College Student Transfer and Attainment: Early Momentum Metrics for Formative Evaluation of Community College STEM Transfer Reforms

Date and Time: November 13, 2020 1:00–1:55 PM
Location: Online
Venue: APPAM Virtual Fall Research Conference | Room 7

In the decade since the inception of the “completion agenda” in higher education, community college leaders have increasingly adopted collegewide reforms to improve stubbornly flat rates of student success and persistent equity gaps. Assessing the longer-term effects of such collegewide reforms may take many years to observe, so college leaders are turning to leading indicators of student success to provide timely, formative feedback to support continuous improvement as collegewide reforms scale. A rich theoretical and empirical literature points to measures of early momentum in community colleges as strong indicators of students’ likelihood to succeed on longer-term outcomes. However, these early indicators focus on completion generally, leaving unexamined how colleges might measure early student momentum, such as entry and progression into specific programs of study. Measures of students' early program momentum would be useful for colleges seeking to not only boost student momentum generally but also to help students successfully choose and complete specific programs of study. A focus on program momentum is crucial for educational equity in community colleges, as economic returns vary widely among community college programs. As such, measures of early program momentum could provide key insight for colleges seeking to close gaps both in completion overall and in completion by underrepresented students in programs leading to careers in higher remuneration fields.

This presentation described a study intended to identify measures of program momentum, using transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees in STEM as a case study. We focused on STEM transfer in our examination of program momentum as this programmatic area exemplifies the substantial disconnect between the opportunity and challenge of the community college transfer pathway more generally. Despite its potential for advancing upward social mobility, the likelihood of earning a STEM bachelor’s degree among students who start college at a community college is extremely low.

We drew on administrative records from hundreds of thousands of community college students across three state systems to identify early indicators of subsequent success in STEM bachelor’s programs at four-year institutions. From these rich data sources, we mined students' early course-taking patterns to identify and validate indicators of STEM transfer program momentum with a goal of identifying a final set of indicators that are generalizable across our multi-institution sample. We supplemented this exploratory approach with analyses of statewide articulation agreements to identify courses required for transfer students’ entry with junior standing into STEM majors at state universities, as well as the prerequisites for those courses that we might expect STEM transfer-intending students to take early-on in community college. We then compared the explanatory power of these early course-taking indicators to more general measures of students’ early academic momentum to assess their utility as early indicators of program momentum in STEM.

Associated Papers


Senior Research Associate
Community College Research Center
Senior Research Assistant and PEAR Fellow
Community College Research Center
Senior Research Assistant
Research Affiliate
Community College Research Center
Research Affiliate
Community College Research Center

Associated Project(s)