AVID for Higher Education Shows Positive Student Outcomes When Used Well

August 2, 2017

By Joseph Shields, Director of Evaluation, and Marshall Garland, Senior Research Scientist, Gibson Consulting Group

Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) is a global nonprofit organization with a mission “to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.” AVID for Higher Education (AHE) builds on AVID's 30-plus-year history of doing just that for elementary and secondary students, and its services have had a major impact on at-risk students since the 1990s. Now, an in-progress study is showing evidence that AHE can improve students’ preparedness for and persistence in college – when institutions use it well.

In 2013, AVID Center received a grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) to implement the AHE Student Success Initiative at selected colleges and universities across the country and measure the program’s impact on student outcomes. One of the core AHE program components is the delivery of an AVID-infused First Year Experience (FYE) course. While AVID provides guidance to participating institutions regarding the development of their FYE courses, the courses are created or modified by the college or university. In AHE FYE courses, students are exposed to high concentrations of activities that focus on important student skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, note-taking, effective reading strategies, time management and other areas critical to the success of college freshmen. In addition, these courses utilize collaborative and active learning pedagogy as opposed the more traditional, lecture-based approach to instruction.

Gibson Consulting Group is the third-party evaluator for the project, which examines student persistence and degree completion rates from the 2014-15 to 2019-20 academic years*. This article includes results reflecting three years of data for the fall 2014 student cohort and two years of data for the fall 2015 cohort.

Survey results from those first two cohorts revealed a few important things about the students who participated in AHE’s FYE course. First, students responded that faculty members who participated in AVID professional learning opportunities were more inclined to use active and collaborative learning strategies – as well as skill-based content like effective reading, time management, critical thinking and inquiry, and test-taking strategies – in those courses than faculty members who did not receive such development. Second, regardless of whether the course was taught by an AVID-trained faculty member, when students experienced high levels of student-centered teaching and content, they were significantly more likely to say the course made them more confident in their abilities to be successful college students. Those students in turn were also more likely to say they would participate in peer study groups and access postsecondary resources that can help them succeed in college.

College persistence results at three institutions – the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Texas Wesleyan University, and Saddleback College – that implemented the AHE program with fidelity** were consistently more positive for the AVID group than a comparison group of similar students who did not participate in the program.***

As Figures 1 and 2 show, UNC-Asheville and Texas Wesleyan College students who were enrolled in the courses taught by AVID-trained faculty members were more likely to return to those same colleges in the spring of their freshman year, for their sophomore year, and for their junior year than students in a course that was not taught by AVID-trained faculty. It is possible that the results for the two cohorts were impacted to a certain degree by programmatic shifts and developments between fall 2014 and fall 2015 – such as AHE courses adding or dropping program features like student learning communities, the set of course offerings in which AVID pedagogy is being infused, and the breadth of faculty trained on the use of active and collaborative learning strategies. But the consistently positive persistence rates among AVID students at these two universities is evident.

At Fort Valley State University and California State University-San Marcos, results were mixed for fall 2014 and 2015 AVID student cohorts, with largely positive results observed for the former group at Fort Valley State (Figure 1) and positive freshman-to-sophomore year persistence observed for the latter at CSU-San Marcos (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Selected 4-Year Institution Persistence Results, PSM Regression-Adjusted Effect on Persistence Rates of Participating in the AHE Program, Fall 2014 Student Cohort

Source: Administrative data collected from participating institutions, 2015 and 2016
Note: Two institutions for which baseline equivalence of AVID and control group students could not be established through the use of high school performance or SAT/ACT scores are not included in these comparisons.

Figure 2: Selected 4-Year Institution Persistence Results, PSM Regression-Adjusted Effect on Persistence Rates of Participating in the AHE Program, Fall 2015 Student Cohort


Source: Administrative data collected from participating institutions, 2015 and 2016
Note: Two institutions for which baseline equivalence of AVID and control group students could not be established through the use of high school performance or SAT/ACT scores are not included in these comparisons.

As Figure 3 illustrates, among two-year institutions, fall 2014 cohort students at both Atlanta Technical College and Saddleback College posted higher freshman-to-sophomore year persistence rates (+5.6 and +5.5 percentage points, respectively) than a matched comparison group of nonparticipating students. AVID-cohort freshmen at Atlanta Technical College also posted significantly higher fall-to-spring persistence rates than freshmen not participating in the AHE program.

Figure 3: Selected 2-Year Institution Persistence Results, PSM Regression-Adjusted Effect on Persistence Rates of Participating in the AHE Program, Fall 2014 Student Cohort


Source: Administrative data collected from participating institutions, 2015 and 2016
Note: Fall 2014 results were not available for Butler Community College.

As Figure 4 illustrates, while the results for the fall 2015 cohort at Atlanta Technical College were relatively flat, freshman-to-sophomore persistence for AVID students at Saddleback College and Butler Community College outpaced their nonparticipating peers by 12 and 17 percentage points, respectively.

Saddleback College, one of three community or technical colleges participating in the AHE implementation project, dramatically expanded its program from a single FYE course (Counseling 140) in fall 2014 to an expansive menu of freshman courses taught by AVID-trained faculty in fall 2015. While results were generally promising for the first AVID student cohort, the expansion was correlated with large, positive differences in persistence rates between fall 2015 AVID and non-AVID students. Though the research design could not account for institutional changes during this period that may have unevenly benefitted AVID students or faculty over their non-AVID peers, these improvements are encouraging, and the role these programmatic changes may have played in these gains warrants further study.

Figure 4: Selected 2-Year Institution Persistence Results, PSM Regression-Adjusted Effect on Persistence Rates of Participating in the AHE Program, Fall 2015 Student Cohort

Source: Administrative data collected from participating institutions, 2015 and 2016

It is clear from this evaluation of the AHE Student Success Initiative that implementation fidelity and programmatic intentionality are critical to the success of AHE programs. Including components that connect students to one another, to faculty, and to university resources through the use of student-centered instructional approaches are critical AHE components, and when present, led to consistently positive institutional results during the first three years of this study.

Annual AVID College Completion Project evaluation reports are available from are available from AVID for Higher Education.

*While there may be some variation in the content included in AHE and control group section of the FYE courses, the primary difference is the training received by faculty members in AVID high-engagement strategies teaching AHE targeted course sections. This shift in pedagogy is one of the key differentiating factors between AHE course sections (treatment group) and course sections taught by nonparticipating faculty (control group).

**Assessments of implementation fidelity are based on interviews with the AVID site team, faculty, staff and tutors, classroom observations, and AHE Certification Self Study (CSS) data.

***The pool of non-participating students was adjusted to resemble the pool of participating students using inverse-probability weighting based on a propensity score.

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