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IES Grant

Title: A Leaky Pipeline: Community College Students and Pathways to the Bachelorís Degree
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Logue, Alexandra Awardee: City University of New York (CUNY)
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (08/01/2018 - 07/31/2022) Award Amount: $1,399,080
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A180139

Co-Principal Investigator: Balu, Rekha; Chellman, Colin

Purpose: In this project, researchers seek to identify malleable factors that have the potential to increase the low percentage of community college students who transfer to a bachelor's degree program and subsequently complete a bachelor's degree. By identifying the specific stages in the transfer pipeline at which many students stall—as well as the supports that can help them to transition to subsequent stages—this project will generate actionable insights for college leaders and inform future research on support strategies for community college students.

Project Activities: The team will explore four likely leakage points in the pipeline from community colleges to bachelor's degree completion: lack of application to transfer, lack of actual transfer (transfer melt), credit loss, and transfer shock. During the first stage of the project, researchers will conduct a staff survey and compile a comprehensive database of transfer-related activities from multiple administrative sources within the CUNY system. Next, researchers will conduct focus groups with staff and students which will, in turn, inform a survey of all CUNY students. During the third stage, researchers will analyze qualitative data from focus groups and surveys, and conduct two types of quantitative analyses of transfer behavior using retrospective data from an earlier cohort and current data from students enrolling during the 2019-20 academic year. During the final stage of the project, the research team will synthesize findings from the qualitative and quantitative analyses and present their findings to CUNY staff and to national organizations of college administrators and researchers.

Products: The research team will produce detailed flow charts of the transfer pipeline at CUNY as well as evidence and recommendations about specific practices, policies, and services that have the potential to increase transfer and bachelor's-degree completion for transfer-intending community college students. They will also produce accessible products for practitioners along with manuscripts for submission to peer-reviewed research journals.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place across all 19 undergraduate colleges in The City University of New York (CUNY) system, including community college and bachelor's degree colleges.

Sample: All staff members who have significant responsibility for transfer students at each of the 19 CUNY colleges will receive the staff survey. Focus group samples will include 5 staff members in 1 focus group at each of 6 colleges (totaling 30 staff) and 90 students in 3 focus groups at each of 6 colleges. The quantitative sample will include the full cohort of students who entered CUNY during 2013-2014, plus the cohort of students entering in the 2019-20 academic year.

Malleable Factors: Improving information and services provided to students, as well as reducing unnecessary delays through increased administrative efficiency are malleable factors that have potential to increase transfer and degree completion rates among transfer-intending students.

Research Design and Methods: The team will employ a sequential mixed-method data collection and analysis strategy in which initial data collection activities will inform the later data collection activities. Descriptive results from the initial staff survey and focus groups will identify major points of leakage in the transfer pipeline as well as promising malleable factors for moving students along the pipeline. The subsequent student survey will probe further into these leakage points and malleable factors, and will support a correlational analysis of factors associated with progression through each of the four challenging stages in the transfer pipeline. In addition, the research team will track leakage from and progress through the pipeline for students in the 2013-14 cohort, and conduct a cross-sectional analysis of students in the 2019-2020 cohort. During the final stage of the analysis, the research team will synthesize findings from the focus groups, surveys, and quantitative analyses.

Control Condition: Although there is no control condition, researchers will compare students who initiate transfer to those who do not, and students who successfully transfer to those who do not.

Key Measures: Researchers will draw on focus group data to code measures indicating key problem points in the transfer process along with malleable factors that impede or encourage transfer. The staff survey will produce a large set of measures indicating services and activities that colleges offer to support students in the transfer process. The student survey will produce measures of students' usage of transfer-related services and receipt of information during the transfer process, and their needs for specific supports to enable transfer to and success at a bachelor's-degree institution. Outcome measures will include transfer progress (including transfer application and enrollment in a bachelor's degree program) and measures of overall credit attainment and degree completion.

Data Analysis Strategy: Researchers will code the qualitative data to identify time points or steps at which students report problems or malleable factors that impede or encourage their progress. Researchers will compare staff and student responses at these key time points, and search for prevalent factors outside of the original coding scheme. Using quantitative measures, researchers will employ a sequential set of models for each of the four main stages in the transfer pipeline.

Related project: Evaluating the Impact of CUNY Start through a Researcher (MDRC) — Local Education Agency (City University of New York) Partnership (R305H140065)