Agenda, Scope, and Goals
Graduation rates at community colleges and broad access four-year institutions have remained low for decades, especially for low-income students and students of color. Over the last 15 years, though, MDRC and other researchers have established a rigorous body of evidence about what works in postsecondary education. This research shows that certain approaches (for instance, enhanced advising, financial incentives, encouragement to enroll in summer) can have positive, but modest effects.
The evidence also shows that combining multiple evidence-based interventions into a single extended program can produce substantial improvements in student outcomes. Examples of such programs include Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA), the Dell Scholars program, and One Million Degrees. Most notably, CUNY designed, developed, and implemented its Accelerated Study in Associate’s Programs (ASAP), which was the first to show, through a random assignment evaluation, that comprehensive student support programs could dramatically increase graduation rates. (Institutions interested in replicating CUNY ASAP should reach out to CUNY at CUNYASAPReplication@cuny.edu).
However, scaling comprehensive programs to many colleges has been slower than we’d like, owing in part to resource constraints. SUCCESS is aiming for the sweet spot—by leveraging existing resources to create multifaceted programs at an affordable cost, it may be possible to produce substantial impacts at scale.
All SUCCESS programs provide services to students for two to three years and include the following components:
- Coaches, supervised by a dedicated SUCCESS program director/manager, who reach out actively to the most at-risk students and meet frequently with them.
- Financial incentives to encourage students to meet with coaches and satisfy other program requirements.
- Strategies focused on increasing academic momentum (including requiring full-time enrollment and encouraging summer/winter enrollment).
- A robust management information system that provides real-time data that staff members use to support efficient program management and continuous improvement.
- A commitment to affordability and sustainability that is realized in part by using and consolidating existing resources.
MDRC works with states and colleges to adapt the model’s components to the local context and align the program with existing initiatives and priorities. States and colleges may also target programs to certain populations, for example, by including cultural components designed to help students of color.
MDRC is deeply committed to creating knowledge to encourage the expansion of SUCCESS beyond its initial states, and to inform that expansion. Through the dissemination of lessons drawn from the project, MDRC aims to build interest and enthusiasm among reform-minded colleges and state policy leaders who want to implement robust, evidence-based initiatives that can be adopted on a large scale and are financially sustainable.
Design, Sites, and Data Sources
The SUCCESS Demonstration includes a randomized controlled trial (RCT), implementation study, and cost study, as well as scaling and technical assistance work beyond the scope of the experimental evaluation. Ten colleges are participating in the RCT, which will measure the program’s effects on student outcomes, including persistence in school, credit accumulation, and graduation. Rounding out the quantitative evaluation will be a student survey, interviews and focus groups with students, and a cost-effectiveness analysis.
The SUCCESS Demonstration includes a diverse set of states and colleges to ensure that findings are applicable in a variety of contexts and are useful to practitioners. The five selected states allow the team to capture variation in states’ systems of governance, accountability, and funding, as well as geographic, demographic, and political diversity. The team is working with multiple colleges in each state, which will make it possible to include colleges in different types of locations (rural and urban, for example) that are serving different demographic mixes of students or different balances of traditional and nontraditional students.
The ten colleges participating in MDRC’s random assignment study are:
- California: Bakersfield College
- Indiana: Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington, Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, and Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Service Areas
- Minnesota: Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Hennepin Technical College
- New Jersey: Essex County College and Passaic County Community College
- Ohio: Owens Community College and Stark State College
MDRC has also partnered with Chaffey College in California and Bemidji State University and Southwest Minnesota State University in Minnesota to launch SUCCESS programs. Chaffey College is aiming to integrate SUCCESS principles into its school-wide programming, and Bemidji State University and Southwest Minnesota State University may join the evaluation in the future.