ISSUE

Many community college students enroll part time or inconsistently, and that can make the road to graduation much longer than expected. Only 22% of these students earn a degree or certificate within three years.

Summer term bridges the gap between fall and spring semesters—a period when many students drop out—and provides the opportunity to earn credits toward a degree. Yet the majority of college students don’t enroll in summer courses.

SOLUTION

MDRC designed the Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment (EASE) project to evaluate two interventions at 10 Ohio community colleges during the summers of 2017 and 2018. Ohio is an ideal testing ground because just prior to the study’s launch, the Ohio Department of Higher Education reinstated the Third-Term Ohio College Opportunity Grant. This state grant provides funding for community college students who enroll in summer term, though it doesn’t fully cover the cost of tuition.

With a $3.3 million grant from Great Lakes, MDRC is conducting a three-way randomized controlled trial to:

  1. Evaluate whether summer enrollment increases graduation rates and decreases the time it takes to graduate.
  2. Determine the most effective method to motivate students to enroll in summer courses.

The EASE study includes first-year, low-income students who were enrolled in spring semester
and randomly assigns them to one of three test groups.

EASE RANDOMIZED STUDY GROUPS:

  • Group A: Colleges do what they normally do to encourage students to enroll in summer classes
  • Group B: Colleges use enhanced messaging that explains the financial and academic benefits of attending summer term
  • Group C: Colleges use the same enhanced messaging offered to Group B plus provide students with “last dollar” tuition assistance

MDRC leveraged insights from behavioral science—the study of how we make decisions and what motivates us to take action—to develop the interventions for Groups B and C. The informational campaign for Group B intended to motivate students to register for summer term with simple, personalized print and digital communications. Group C benefitted from the informational campaign and additional aid that covered the difference between students’ costs and the Pell Grant funding or other grants they had available for summer courses.

The first phase of the study included 3,689 students at four Ohio community colleges: Columbus State Community College, Marion Technical College, Southern State Community College and Stark State College. The colleges launched interventions during January and February of 2017, either on or just prior to the day summer registration opened. MDRC reports its findings from Summer 2017 in new brief.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education reinstated year-round Pell Grants for the 2017-2018 academic year. This means eligible students have additional funding available for summer courses. MDRC continues to work with the phase one colleges during Summer 2018, and has included six additional Ohio colleges for phase two of the study: Clark State Community College, Lakeland Community College, North Central State Community College, Northwest State Community College, Rio Grande Community College and Sinclair Community College. In phase two, similar interventions are being implemented and evaluated in the new context of year-round Pell Grants. Watch for a future brief detailing findings from phase two.

QUESTIONS

Contact Senior Program Officer Sue Cui at scui@ascendiumeducation.org.