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ERIC Number: ED523767
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Sep
Pages: 49
Abstractor: As Provided
Charting Pathways to Completion for Low-Income Community College Students. CCRC Working Paper No. 34
Jenkins, Davis; Weiss, Madeline Joy
Community College Research Center, Columbia University
This study uses administrative data from Washington State to chart the educational pathways of first-time community college students over seven years, with a focus on young, socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Of particular interest are the rates at which students enter a course of study (by passing multiple college-level courses within a focused field of study), the amount of remediation taken by students in each concentration, and the rates at which students in different concentrations earn certificates, earn associate degrees, or transfer to four-year institutions. We found that students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds were less likely than higher SES students to enter a concentration, which we define as taking and passing at least three courses in a single field of study. Among those who did enter a concentration, low-SES students were less likely to concentrate in liberal arts and sciences and more likely to enter a concentration in career-technical education (CTE), where completion rates are lower. Low-SES students were overrepresented in fields such as education and childcare that have low completion rates, although they were well represented compared with high-SES students in nursing and allied health, which tend to have higher labor market returns for graduates. Overall, however, the majority of young students in our sample who entered a program of study--even low-SES young students--were more likely to do so in liberal arts and sciences than in career-technical programs. Some researchers and policy analysts have suggested that it would be beneficial to encourage more students into pathways that involve multiple, "stackable" credentials in CTE fields with relatively high labor market returns. Given that liberal arts and sciences is the default pathway for the majority of younger students, convincing recent high school graduates to choose a CTE path would likely require a fundamental shift in the way high schools and community colleges guide and prepare young, first-time college students. Regardless of whether they concentrated in a CTE field or in liberal arts and sciences, however, low-SES students were less likely to earn a credential or transfer to a four-year institution. The majority of students in our sample of first-time students did not get far enough to enter a concentration. Despite the evidence of a systemic problem in low overall rates of credential completion, especially among low-income students, there are no easy solutions. However, a key intermediate step would be to increase the rate at which students enter coherent programs of study. The "low-hanging fruit" may be the students who attempt but do not enter a concentration and the many who do not even get that far but who signal an intent to pursue a credential, whether they signal this through self-reporting, attempting developmental coursework, or attempting multiple college-level courses. In our sample of first-time college students, this represented more than half of the younger students who did not succeed in entering a concentration. Appended are: (1) detailed tables; and (2) classification of instructional programs. (Contains 16 figures, 14 tables and 10 footnotes.)
Community College Research Center. Available from: CCRC Publications. Teachers College, Columbia University, 525 West 120th Street Box 174, New York, NY 10027. Tel: 212-678-3091; Fax: 212-678-3699; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Authoring Institution: Columbia University, Community College Research Center
Identifiers - Location: Washington
What Works Clearinghouse Reviewed: Does Not Meet Evidence Standards