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Identifying Predictors of Credential Completion Among Beginning Community College Students

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Identifying Predictors of Credential Completion Among Beginning Community College Students

December 30, 1899

by Jonathan M. Turk

Now more than ever, a college education is vital for economic independence and upward mobility. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 99 perce​nt of all jobs created since the Great Recession have gone to those with education beyond the high school level. Community colleges, with their open access and low-tuition missions, are and will continue to be vitally important in helping individuals achieve their education goals and meeting the labor-market needs of our nation. 

This report is the second in a series of four, exploring outcomes for recent high school graduates who began their postsecondary education in a community college. Drawing from data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, this report examines the relationships between student- and institutional-level characteristics and the likelihood students will earn a credit-based sub-baccalaureate certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. 

Some key findings include: 

  • Earning a strong college GPA and completing more credits in the first year of college were the strongest overall predictors of postsecondary credential completion.

  • After controlling for demographic characteristics and college enrollment and academic factors, earning a strong high school GPA, earning dual-enrollment credits, and taking a college entrance exam before leaving high school were significant predictors of postsecondary credential completion.  

  • Delaying enrollment into college as well as enrolling in an out-of-state community college significantly lowered the probability of earning a postsecondary credential. 

In light of the key findings, the author offers seven recommendations for policy and practice: 

  1. Ensure students receive a high-quality education prior to college.  

  2. Reduce inequity in school funding and outcomes.

  3. Consider new academic and student support models to increase community college student success.

  4. Continue strengthening the institutional research capacity at community colleges.

  5. Adequately fund community colleges. 

  6. Strengthen the Pell Grant program and expand need-based aid.

  7. Address systemic issues facing society through public policy.

​As an increasing number of jobs require education beyond high school, a postsecondary credential remains one of the best investments individuals can make to secure their personal and economic futures. Community colleges are and will continue to be at the forefront of ensuring students have access to the benefits of a college education. Policymakers, education leaders, and researchers must work cooperatively to increase equitable educational opportunities and improve student outcomes by identifying areas in need of innovation, piloting and evaluating interventions, and implementing data-informed policies and practices.





On October 5, 2017, Dr. Jonathan Turk, ACE's senior policy research analyst, Dr. Ellen Wagner, Hobsons' vice president of research, and Dr. David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214, reviewed the findings from the research brief and discussed strategies to improve certificate and degree completion rates for beginning community college students. ​


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