Moving the Needle: The Roles of Institutional Quality, Capacity, and Student Choice in College Completion
Primary Investigator(s): Awilda Rodriguez
Funding Agency: American Educational Research Association and the National Science Foundation
Period: 6/1/2017 - 6/1/2018
The past two decades have seen mixed results in students’ progression through the college completion pipeline. While the number of first-time, degree-seeking students has increased markedly, changes in graduation rates increased at a significantly slower rate. With the federal investment in postsecondary education ballooning, policymakers continue to raise concerns over institutional quality and students’ college choices. The nexus between performance, affordability, and institutional capacity warrants examination. Solutions can take on the form of (a) increasing the number of seats at higher-performing colleges; (b) increasing performance at lower-performing colleges; or (c) maximizing students’ college choices.
The present project seeks to advance our collective understanding of improving college-going outcomes through student access, while acknowledging the constraints of capacity by answering the following research questions: (1) What share of students are applying to, gaining admission to, and enrolling in colleges that are affordable and have high graduation rates? How does this differ by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status? (2) Relative to students of similar academic and demographic characteristics, to what extent did enrollment in a “match” college increase students' chances of four-year completion? Did this vary by race and socioeconomic status? (3) To what extent would increases in graduation rates in non-match colleges increase overall completion rates? Would it decrease race- or class-based gaps in graduation rates? (4) To what extent would increases in seats at match colleges increase overall completion rates? Would it decrease race- or class-based gaps in graduation rates? (5) To what extent would graduation rates increase if students enrolled in the best college option to which they applied–defined as the most selective match college? Would it decrease race- or class-based gaps in graduation rates? Findings from this study provide a critical link between the college choice and completion literature. Further, empirical evidence from this study can inform our understanding of the consequences to attending a college that are deemed by policymakers as not high-performing or affordable. Finally, the study provides estimates for how to move the needle on completion by accounting for capacity as well as expanding the conversation of match beyond high-achieving students.