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 Ascendium, 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 reported its findings from Summer 2017 in this brief.

The U.S. Department of Education reinstated year-round Pell Grants for the 2017-2018 academic year, which offered eligible students additional funding for summer courses. MDRC continued to work with the Phase One colleges during Summer 2018, and added six Ohio colleges for Phase Two of the study, which began in spring 2018 with 10,816 students. The additional colleges are Clark State Community College, Lakeland Community College, North Central State Community College, Northwest State Community College, Rio Grande Community College and Sinclair Community College. 

Results have been promising both before and after year-round Pell Grant reinstatement, and show that—for a small investment—colleges that encourage summer enrollment can help students earn more credits toward their degree. In a second brief, published in early 2019, MDRC recaps Phases One and Two of the study and highlights the impact of these two proven strategies for increasing summer enrollment.

QUESTIONS

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