College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

What Predicts Early College Success for Indiana Students?

By Urban Education Contributor — July 02, 2018 6 min read
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This week, we are hearing from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest (@RELMidwest). This post is by Nicole Guarino, research associate with REL Midwest.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this research.

Many high school graduates enroll in college, but not all successfully attain degrees. Among full-time college students, only 28 percent earn an associate’s degree within three years, and only 59 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within six years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016, table 326). In Indiana, state education leaders are committed to narrowing the gap between students’ college aspirations and attainment, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. To support this effort, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest partnered with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the Indiana Department of Education to examine student characteristics associated with early college success, with a focus on the types of financial aid students received.

What The Research Examines

REL Midwest used data from the Indiana Management Performance Hub to examine early college outcomes of Indiana’s 2014 public high school graduates who enrolled in an in-state public college that fall. This dataset produced a sample of 28,525 students.

Early college success was defined using four measures:

  • Enrolled in only non-remedial coursework in the first semester (two-year colleges only)
  • Earned all attempted credits in the first semester
  • Persisted to a second year of college
  • Showed success by all indicators (composite of above three measures)

Student characteristics. We first examined the relationship between student demographic, academic, and school-level characteristics and early college success. Demographic characteristics included race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Academic characteristics included grade 8 mathematics scores on the Indiana state assessment, high school absences, Advanced Placement (AP) coursework, and type of high school diploma earned. School-level characteristics included the percentage of students in a high school who passed the English 10 end-of-course assessment and who were eligible for the federal school lunch program.

Financial aid type. We also examined the relationship between the type of financial aid received and early college success, controlling for other student- and school-level characteristics. Our Indiana partners were particularly interested in the early college success of students who received federal Pell Grants or Indiana 21st Century Scholarships. We therefore made those programs our focus.

Pell Grants provide students from low-income households with financial aid to defray college costs. In the 2014-15 school year (the year our sample of students enrolled in college), Pell Grant awards ranged from $573 to $5,730, depending on student need.

Indiana 21st Century Scholarships are a need-based form of aid available to students participating in the state’s 21st Century Scholars Program. Indiana students may enroll in this program in grade 7 or 8. To be eligible for the scholarship, program participants must complete 12 college preparation activities, including submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition, participants must maintain academic requirements in high school and college. Students awarded 21st Century Scholarships receive up to four years of full tuition and fees at Indiana public colleges or a portion of tuition and fees at Indiana private colleges.

Forty-five percent of the students in our study received Pell Grants and 19 percent received 21st Century Scholarships. In addition, 37 percent of Pell Grant recipients also received 21st Century Scholarships.

What The Research Finds

Students who attended four-year colleges had higher rates of early college success than students who attended two-year colleges. Of the students in our sample who attended four-year colleges, 55 percent achieved early college success across all measures, including the composite. In contrast, only 15 percent of the students attending two-year colleges achieved the same measures of success.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds had lower rates of early college success. Black students and students eligible for the national school lunch program were less likely to achieve early college success across all measures compared to White students and students not eligible for the national school lunch program. This pattern held for both two- and four-year colleges.

High school academic achievement was associated with early college success. A greater proportion of students who earned Indiana Core 40 diplomas with honors achieved early college success across all measures than graduates who earned other types of high school diplomas. Students who took at least one AP examination, even if they did not pass, also achieved greater early college success across all measures than students who did not take an AP examination. These patterns were consistent across two- and four-year colleges.

Indiana 21st Century Scholarship recipients were more likely to achieve early college success than Pell Grant recipients and significantly more likely to persist to a second year of college. Receiving a Pell Grant was significantly associated with a lower likelihood of earning all attempted credits in the first semester, persisting to a second year, and meeting all success indicators. In contrast, receiving a 21st Century Scholarship was significantly associated with a greater likelihood of persisting to a second year of college. This pattern was consistent across two- and four-year colleges.

Implications For Practice

The findings from our study suggest three main implications for practice. First, Indiana students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to experience lower rates of early college success. State policymakers may want to investigate and address potential gaps in resource quality or use at public schools serving disadvantaged communities. Second, Indiana middle and high schools should encourage more students from low-income households to participate in and complete the requirements of the 21st Century Scholars Program, given its positive association with early college success. Third, Indiana colleges may want to consider additional ways to support Pell Grant recipients and other disadvantaged students who did not receive 21st Century Scholarships. By targeting resources and services to those with the greatest need, REL Midwest and our Indiana partners seek to promote college success for all Hoosier students.

View and download the full report.

Previous blog posts by REL Midwest:

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.