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IES Grant

Title: Putting Data to Work to Re-Engage Young Adults Who Experienced Pandemic-Related Educational Disruptions
Center: NCER Year: 2022
Principal Investigator: Deaton, Russ Awardee: Tennessee Board of Regents
Program: Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Recovery Policymaking      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (02/01/2022 – 01/31/2025) Award Amount: $997,825
Type: Exploration and Efficacy Award Number: R305S220005
Description:

Co-Principal Investigators: Moreland, Amy; Castleman, Benjamin

Partner Institutions: Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), University of Virginia

Purpose: TBR-The College System of Tennessee seeks to develop data insights about community college student persistence and test coaching strategies that support students whose postsecondary paths were disrupted by COVID-19. The project team will use data from community colleges and the state's longitudinal data system to identify promising career pathways for community college students and examine the impact of COVID-19 on student success. Using insights from these analyses about the impact of COVID-19 on community college students and promising career pathways for community college students, the project team will implement a pilot project to assign course-embedded success coaches to academically underprepared students who struggle to persist toward completion of a community college credential.

Project Activities: The project team will carry out three activities:

  1. Examine the impact of COVID-19 on the persistence and credit attainment of Tennessee community college students from the high school graduating classes of 2020 to 2022 compared to students from four pre-pandemic graduating classes, including an analysis of differences in student outcomes by race, socioeconomic status, and academic preparation.
  2. Identify employment rates and wage returns for graduates of career-focused associate and sub-associate certificate programs in six in-demand occupational areas compared to graduates of general associate degree programs designed to transfer to a university.
  3. Use findings from the data analyses described above to implement and test a course coaching model that embeds success coaches into corequisite learning support courses to support the persistence of community college students.

Products: The research products will include policy briefs for practitioners and policymakers, presentations to system leaders and college presidents, interactive data and intervention toolkits for institutional leaders. The team will also submit manuscripts to peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project takes place in community and technical colleges in Tennessee.

Population/Sample: The analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on student persistence and credit attainment at community colleges will include first-time students who enrolled at community colleges within a year of high school graduation from the high school graduating classes of 2016 to 2022. This sample will include approximately 113,000 students from Tennessee's 13 public community colleges. Additionally, the identification of wage outcomes for graduates of community college programs will include students who enrolled at Tennessee community and technical colleges within one year of high school graduation from 2010 to 2015. This sample includes approximately 90,000 students. The course coaching project will include first-time students who are placed into corequisite learning support courses at two community colleges. Over two years, 1,500 students will be randomly selected to receive a course coach.

Key Issue, Program or Policy: Low first-year persistence rates at Tennessee community colleges pose challenges for the state's educational attainment and workforce development goals. Historically, more than one-fourth of first-time students at Tennessee community colleges do not persist past their first semester, and one-half do not persist beyond their first year. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these persistence challenges at community colleges, as first-semester persistence fell eight percentage points for students who entered in 2020 compared to 2019. Persistence rates were lowest for academically underprepared students. Among underprepared students who were placed into corequisite learning support courses for all three subject areas in fall 2020, only 56% persisted to the following semester, and 41% earned zero credit hours in their first semester. Additionally, 74% of all first-time, degree-seeking students who enrolled immediately after high school were enrolled in general associate degree programs designed to transfer to a university. Despite the preponderance of enrollments in these programs, only 25% of first-time students at Tennessee community colleges ever transfer to a four-year university, and fewer than 15% ever earn a bachelor's degree or higher.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will apply different research designs and methodologies to each of the three project activities. First, the project team will use an Interrupted Time Series (ITS) design to examine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students' persistence and credit attainment rates in their first year compared to pre-pandemic trends. Second, the analysis of wage returns for graduates of TBR colleges will use an individual fixed effects method to estimate the probability of employment and quarterly earnings returns for graduates of associate degree and sub-associate certificate programs. Lastly, the course coaching project will be piloted through a randomized control trial (RCT) at two community colleges with two waves of first-time students. Over two years, 1,500 students will be selected randomly to receive a course coach, and approximately 1,500 students will be assigned to the control condition.

Control Condition: For the ITS analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on student outcomes, the control condition will include first-time students at community colleges from the pre-pandemic high school graduating classes of 2016-2019. To analyze employment and wage returns, the project team will compare outcomes for graduates of career-focused programs associated with six in-demand occupations to outcomes for graduates of general associate degree programs. For the RCT of the course coaching project, the control condition will include approximately 1,500 first-time students who enroll at the two participating community colleges and are placed into learning support for at least one subject area but who are not randomly selected for assignment of a course coach.

Key Measures: Data from Tennessee Board of Regents administrative data will be used to examine persistence and credit attainment rates for students who enrolled at Tennessee community colleges after high school. Additionally, Tennessee's longitudinal data system will be used to identify post-completion employment rates and quarterly wages for graduates of associate and sub-associate programs at TBR colleges. These findings will be used to design a course coaching intervention for students enrolled in corequisite learning support courses. During the course coaching intervention, the project team will track the frequency and nature of student engagement with coaches and students' first-year course grades. To assess the impact of the RCT, the project team will measure the fall-to-spring persistence, fall-to-fall persistence, and credit attainment rates of students assigned to course coaching compared to students in the control group.

Data Analytic Strategy: To examine the impact of COVID-19 on first-time community college students, the project team will use an ITS design to estimate fall-to-spring persistence, fall-to-fall persistence, and credit attainment rates for students from the high school graduating classes of 2020 to 2022 compared to pre-pandemic cohorts from 2016 to 2019. To identify the differential impacts of the pandemic on critical subgroups of community college students, the ITS analysis will also include interaction terms for low-income, Black, and academically underprepared students. Second, to identify employment outcomes for graduates of TBR colleges, the project team will use regression analysis to estimate employment outcomes for students enrolled at TBR colleges from 2010 to 2015. The outcomes of interest will include employment in each quarter and logged quarterly wages. Models will include measures indicating if a student was enrolled in a given term and their highest postsecondary award at the start of the quarter. Also, these models will include covariates for students' demographic and enrollment characteristics and will be estimated using an individual fixed effects approach to address latent individual student characteristics that may impact employment and earnings. Lastly, to analyze the impact of the course coaching RCT, the project team will use regression analysis to assess fall-to-spring persistence, fall-to-fall persistence, and credit attainment after each semester for students in the treatment and control condition. The estimation of the effects of the intervention will also include covariates to account for differences by student demographic characteristics, academic preparation, and postsecondary enrollment characteristics.

State Decision Making: The findings will be useful as TBR considers:

  • Policies and programs to support the persistence of young adult students whose educational pathways were disrupted by COVID-19;
  • Improving the information provided to young adults about high-demand/high-wage occupations and career-focused postsecondary programs;
  • Re-designing advising for students in developmental education to align academic planning with students' career goals and increase rates of academic success.

RELATED IES PROJECTS:

Nudges to the Finish Line: Experimental Interventions to Prevent Late College Departure (R305N160026); Analyzing and Understanding the Educational and Economic Impact of Regional Career Pathways (R305S210027); Reducing Summer Melt: Text Messaging Effectiveness (R305A190074); The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (R305C110011)


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