Research Team Investigates Keys to Postsecondary Success, Releases Report

June 11, 2019


By Mariah Brown, Spencer Dixon, McCall Hopkin, Shelbe Klebs, and Emily Labandera 

The National College Access Network, with the help of its members, engaged in a five-year project to examine the postsecondary enrollment and completion outcomes of students served by college access and success programs. The Benchmarking Project found that NCAN member-served students’ postsecondary enrollment outcomes exceed those of their peers and students from most high school types nationally. Member-served students’ completion outcomes exceed those of their peers but have consistently trailed behind national benchmarks.

In the most recent Benchmarking report, NCAN found a 12 percentage-point difference in completion between students who did and did not receive postsecondary success services. These services can help students better navigate financial aid systems, access services available on campus, and manage their career paths. This encouraging finding bears further explanation because the Benchmarking data collection only asks whether programs provide postsecondary success services, writ large, to students without asking for any context. Additionally, NCAN, with the support of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is engaged in a project promoting the creation and expansion of postsecondary success services among a cohort of member programs. Finally, with increasing numbers of member programs engaged in access and success work, a deeper understanding of the provision of these services is key.

Our team of Master of Public Policy candidates at the George Washington University worked with NCAN to examine the nature of postsecondary success services provided by members and whether students’ outcomes vary depending on the types of success services they receive. Our analysis appears in “Keys to Success: NCAN Members’ Postsecondary Success Services,” which we presented to NCAN’s membership on a May 23 webinar. View the slides from our presentation here.

We broke our report into two parts based on our research questions:

  1. What is the nature of postsecondary success services provided by NCAN members?
  2. Do students’ outcomes vary depending on the types of success services they receive?

We intend our report to inform NCAN’s membership about the nature of postsecondary success services and to lay the groundwork for future research and evaluation. To briefly highlight our findings for each research question:

  1. The top three postsecondary success services provided by NCAN members to students who graduated high school in 2010 and 2011 were: FAFSA renewal, connecting students to campus resources, and scholarship search services. Most services are provided less than monthly and are delivered both electronically and in person. Success services NCAN members provide are designed to complement existing services on college campuses. Finally, the use of technology has helped NCAN members deliver success services, but it is not meant to replace personal interactions between members and students.

  2. The top five success services provided by members with the five highest average completion rates for their students (ranging from 75-82%) included: study skills, course selection, FAFSA renewal, job search assistance, and networking. Other members who provided these five services also appeared to have above-average program completion rates, though additional research is needed to verify these rough patterns.

Due to data limitations and time constraints, we were unable to confidently identify any group of postsecondary success services that is most likely to increase completion rates. However, our recommendations after conducting a quantitative analysis, a series of semi-structured interviews, and two in-depth case studies are that NCAN and its members should:

  1. Collaborate with institutions of higher education, use technology to complement their service provision, and strengthen personal relationships with the students they serve.

  2. Participate and engage in opportunities to share ideas and models between other NCAN members, and expand and improve data tracking systems for students.

  3. Ask additional questions about success services on the Benchmarking survey, and participate more actively in the Benchmarking Project.

Our findings suggest there is increased interest in college success and the success service landscape is rapidly growing. Our recommendations can help NCAN and its members offer a robust suite of postsecondary success services to their students.

Mariah Brown, Spencer Dixon, McCall Hopkin, Shelbe Klebs, and Emily Labandera each received their Master of Public Policy from the George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration in spring 2019.

Ed. Note: This team of researchers engaged in a project of deep interest to NCAN and its members. NCAN is grateful for their efforts and insights and strongly encourages members to review their presentation and report.

(Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash)



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