From Tails to Heads: Momentum Metrics for Postsecondary Enrollment

Thursday, August 27, 2020
Lauren Norton
Associate Director

Last week, ESG released a new report—From Tails to Heads: Building Momentum for Postsecondary Success—which offers a framework for a new set of postsecondary transition metrics for states and communities to prioritize in order to help more students successfully move to and through higher education. Collectively, the “Momentum Metrics” identified in the report represent eight of the most predictive indicators of postsecondary preparation, retention, and success. 

After deciding on which college to attend, students must navigate the oftentimes complicated process of preparing to enroll. Today, we’re taking a closer look at key metrics related to enrollment and persistence in higher education. 

Seamless Enrollment: Students who enroll at a college or university directly after high school are more likely to persist and attain a postsecondary credential. Yet each year, approximately 20 percent of graduating high school seniors who have committed to attend a postsecondary institution do not matriculate in the fall. This phenomenon, known as “summer melt,” is particularly felt by students from low-income families, first-generation students, and students of color, who often face additional challenges navigating the transition. By using seamless enrollment as a proxy for “summer melt,” states and districts can prioritize support for interventions such as summer bridge programs, near-peer mentoring programs, and technology-embedded advising campaigns.

Realizing that waiting for students to arrive as freshmen was too late to begin providing the advising supports students need to succeed in postsecondary education, Miami Dade College (MDC) partnered with the K-12 school district to develop Shark Path, a three-tier advising program. Shark Path starts with prospective students receiving pre-college advising support in their high school, with more than 90 percent of Miami-Dade high school students receiving support from an MDC advisor. Students complete a noncognitive assessment, a career assessment, assistance with applying for financial aid and scholarships, and an online curriculum prior to their participation in first-year orientation. Shark Path has increased the number of students who have registered for courses by 12 percent, with 78 percent of students enrolling in a credit-bearing English and mathematics course. Once students transition to college, they continue to receive support from their advisor on course selection and degree planning, which have contributed to the program’s fall-to-fall retention rate of 75 percent.

Gateway Course Completion: It’s important that students begin higher education on the right academic foot. Research shows that students who complete “gateway courses”—introductory credit-bearing courses containing material needed for further coursework—in their chosen field of study are more likely to persist and succeed in postsecondary education. However, each year, nearly 20 percent of students attending a four-year institution and 50 percent of students attending a two-year institution are placed into remedial courses instead of gateway courses, which significantly decreases those students’ chances of obtaining a degree. Just 36 percent of remedial students at four-year colleges ever enroll in, let alone complete, their introductory gateway courses in mathematics and English, and only 17 percent graduate. For low-income and first-generation students, these chances are even lower. 

To increase the number of students who successfully complete gateway courses within their first year, higher education institutions must remove barriers created by traditional remediation and provide the necessary academic supports to ensure students succeed. Co-requisite remediation, in which students enroll directly into credit-bearing, college-level courses and receive academic support alongside their regular courses, enables students to stay on course to earning their degree. A study from the Community College Research Center found that for students on the margin of college readiness, those placed into co-requisite remediation were 15 percentage points more likely to complete the gateway courses required for graduation. And states across the country—including Georgia, Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee—have doubled, or even tripled, their student success rate in gateway courses by implementing co-requisite remediation.

Several states across the country, including California, Texas, Tennessee, and Colorado, have taken a legislative approach to increase the likelihood that students complete gateway courses. For example, California passed Assembly Bill 705 (2018), which mandates that all community colleges maximize the probability that a student will complete credit-bearing mathematics and English courses within their first year of college. Within two years, more than 70 percent of the state’s 114 community colleges have transitioned to co-requisite remediation to promote gateway course completion, three times the number of campuses before the bill was passed.