In line with WSSN grant requirements, participating colleges were asked to provide participant-level data for the outcomes evaluation. A participant was defined as anyone who received at least one WSSN service at any time between fall 2015 and spring 2017. Colleges provided administrative records to document participant characteristics, including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and whether the participant was married, had any dependents, or received a Pell grant. The administrative records also contain student course information and credential completion data. Section A of the appendix provides more details on our data and analytic methods.
Colleges were also responsible for collecting and reporting the type of service each participant received, as well as specifying the pillar (or pillars) addressed by each service and the service delivery model (low- or high touch). Importantly, although the WSSN strategy emphasizes the intentional combining or sequencing of services, the data do not capture this intentionality. For example, students may have received a single high-touch service in one pillar, which triggered the college to refer them for a service in a different pillar based on their needs; therefore, although these students received an “intentional” combination and sequencing of services from the college, we can only observe that they received two services in two different pillars.
Given this data limitation, we constructed two main service variables for our analyses:
- receipt of services in multiple pillars; and
- receipt of at least one high-touch service.
Major Findings & Recommendations
Even as the outcomes evaluation makes important contributions to describing service uptake and outcomes for participating students, its combination with the implementation study points to several considerations for both the funders and colleges as they think about how to move forward with this work (Price et al. 2018). Drawing on these implementation findings, as well as those from the outcomes evaluation, we offer some considerations for colleges seeking to better serve low-income students and students of color in the future. The following are considerations for future efforts:
- Receiving a high-touch service may matter more than receiving services across multiple pillars.
- Colleges may reach more students with low-touch services delivered in group settings, but high-touch services are designed to be targeted, more intensive services aligned with individual student needs and goals.
- A high-touch service delivery approach may not be the only way to target services to meet individual participant needs.
Taken together, the findings from the implementation and outcomes studies of the WSSN strategy suggest that community colleges can mobilize to address the needs of low-income students and students of color. At the same time, the evaluation raises additional questions. Future implementation and outcomes analyses could help the WSSN funders and colleges better understand the promise of the strategy. For example, further qualitative data collection could investigate whether high-touch services were used to determine the appropriate customization of services across pillars and how the WSSN fits within the larger ecosystem of related programs available across the academic, workforce, and student services.
It would also be useful to understand how colleges match services to students’ needs since this is a particular challenge college must address. For example, it would be useful to know how colleges approached intentionally integrating services across pillars and to disentangle which types of students sought out services versus those that were specifically targeted for services by the college. In tandem, a more rigorous impact analysis could be designed to study whether WSSN services improve student outcomes relative to services otherwise available at the colleges and whether one-on-one, personalized services lead to better outcomes for students in the target population.