Describes a quasi-experimental, longitudinal study of four U.S public two-year colleges to determine which programs and services are most strongly associated with retaining postsecondary students, finding potentially positive effects correlated with financial aid, tutoring, course load, and other demographic characteristics.

“The Relative Impact study was a longitudinal correlational study using institutional data from four U.S. public two-year colleges in four different states that had occupational programs and used common programs and services aimed at improving student retention and completion and that could be analyzed at the student level. Two cohorts of students were included in the study: those who entered college in Fall 2009 and Fall 2010, respectively.... [T]he Relative Impact study examined these multiple programs and services as they were implemented by multiple colleges and experienced by students throughout two to three years of enrollment….

The study measured associations among student characteristics and common programs and services (developmental English, reading, and writing courses; developmental math courses; financial aid; and tutoring) and student outcomes, specifically retention, completion, and grade point average (GPA). In addition, the study aimed to identify programs and services correlated with two intermediate outcomes: (a) the ratio of credits attempted to credits earned and (b) …GPA. A further objective was to determine the degree to which the programs and services were related to positive outcomes for students differing by age, sex, race, occupational versus non-occupational major…, stress as reported in Term 1 by Cohort 2, the ratio of credits earned to credits attempted…, and enrollment intensity in the first term….

[The] primary research question [guiding the study] was: What programs and services and combinations of programs and services are most strongly associated with retention and completion for students in postsecondary programs, and how do student background and other characteristics moderate those associations?” (p.1).

“[The] study made use of a longitudinal quasi-experimental design in which data were obtained from the institutional databases of two-year community colleges participating in the study” (p.10). “Data sources included institutional data, student surveys, student and staff interviews, and publicly available sources such as course catalogs and websites. Institutional data were collected on two incoming cohorts of community college students …at four sites over a three-year period (Fall 2009 through Spring 2012)” (p.14).

 (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Full publication title: Relative Impact of Interventions to Improve Achievement and Retention in Postsecondary Occupational Programs

Major Findings & Recommendations

The authors reported the following findings: • “Overall, [the] analyses indicated that occupational students were more likely to be retained, as were students taking developmental courses in the first term, older students, female students, White students, and those receiving financial aid ” (p.18). • “Students who ever received financial aid (when measured as a cumulative, dichotomous variable across all terms) were more likely to be retained at each retention point. Students receiving financial aid had higher GPAs in non-developmental courses. Most students (68%) who received financial aid began receiving it during their first term. When controlling for Occupational major, race, sex, age, and placement scores, and looking at types of financial aid by category, students receiving Pell grants, Stafford subsidized loans, and Other types of financial aid were retained at significantly higher levels than similar students not receiving financial aid, whereas those receiving unsubsidized Stafford loans were not retained at a significantly higher level than those receiving no financial aid” (p.20). • “Students who took [Developmental Math (DM)] were more likely to be retained into the second term of the first year and the first term of the third year, but not into the first term of the second year, than students who did not take DM” (p.21). • “Students who received tutoring in their first term at college were more likely to be retained at all three retention points” (p.21). • Students who enrolled full-time in the first semester showed higher retention rates than those enrolling part-time. Students who completed all of the credits they enrolled in were more likely to be retained ... The value of completing all credits attempted in the first term greatly exceeded the value of enrolling full-time in the first term” (p.22). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)