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A study of the impact of a first-year experience initiative on first-year developmental education student success and persistence (Spencer 2012)

Citation

Spencer, K. (2012). A study of the impact of a first-year experience initiative on first-year developmental education student success and persistence (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 3542047)

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Achieving the Dream learning community program on students’ retention and completion of developmental English and math courses at a community college in Michigan.
    • The study used students’ records to compare outcomes of developmental education students who enrolled in the Achieving the Dream program to outcomes of those who took standard developmental courses.
    • The study found no significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups in retention rates or in completion of English or math developmental courses.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low because the author did not include sufficient controls in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Achieving the Dream. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Achieving the Dream

Features of the Intervention

Achieving the Dream was a nationwide initiative to develop interventions to improve outcomes for first-year community college students, with a focus on low-income students and students of color. The Achieving the Dream intervention in this study was a learning community program with academic advising for first-year students in developmental education programs at a Michigan community college. Participants were required to complete a set of developmental courses (in reading, math, and a first-year seminar) during their first semester at the college. These courses had to be taken together during a student’s first semester.

Features of the Study

The study used a nonexperimental design to compare outcomes of students who chose to participate in the Achieving the Dream program with outcomes of those who took standard developmental courses. Analyses were based on cross-tabulations of students’ records data and Chi-square tests were used to determine statistical significance. There were 64 students in the treatment group and 176 in the comparison group.

Findings

    • The study found no significant differences between the treatment and comparison groups in retention rates or in completion of English or math developmental courses.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Students who self-selected into the Achieving the Dream program or into standard developmental courses could differ in observable and unobservable ways. Existing differences could bias impact estimates unless the study properly accounted for these differences. The study did not account for existing differences between the treatment and comparison groups. It did not demonstrate that treatment and comparison groups were similar on key characteristics before the intervention or include any statistical controls. Therefore, the study is not eligible for a moderate causal evidence rating, the highest rating available for nonexperimental designs.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low because the author did not use sufficient controls in the analysis. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to Achieving the Dream. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

February 2016

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