NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluation of a Case Management Intervention

William N. Evans, Melissa S. Kearney, Brendan C. Perry, James X. Sullivan

NBER Working Paper No. 24150
Issued in December 2017
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Public Economics

Community colleges are an important part of the higher education landscape in the United States, but completion rates are extremely low, especially among low-income students. Much of the existing policy and research attention to this issue has focused on addressing academic and financial challenges. However, there is ample reason to think that non-academic obstacles might be key drivers of dropout rates for students living with the burden of poverty. This study examines the impact of a comprehensive case management intervention that is designed specifically to help low-income students overcome the multitude of barriers to college completion. We evaluate the impact of this intervention through a randomized controlled trial evaluation (RCT) conducted between 2013 and 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Eligible students were randomly assigned to a treatment group that was offered comprehensive case management, including emergency financial assistance (EFA), a separate treatment group offered only EFA, or a control group. Data from school administrative records indicate that the comprehensive case management program significantly increases persistence and degree completion, especially for women. Estimates for the full sample are imprecise, but the estimates for women imply that the case management intervention tripled associate degree receipt (31 percentage point increase).We find no difference in outcomes between the EFA-only treatment arm and the control group. A back-of-the-envelope calculation using average earnings gains associated with community college completion implies that program benefits exceed program costs ($5,640 per student for three year program) after only 4.25 years in the workforce post schooling.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24150

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