MPES Talk with James Sullivan

Increasing Community College Completion Rates among Low-Income Students

James Sullivan
Gilbert F. Schaefer College Professor of Economics
University of Notre Dame

Wednesday, January 22nd
Annenberg G02

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 focuses on the role of “life barriers” and demonstrates that wrap-around case management services can be an effective way to increase completion rates among low-income students. We evaluate the impact of the Stay the Course case management program through a multi-armed randomized controlled trial evaluation (RCT) conducted between 2013 and 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. Data from school administrative records indicate that the comprehensive case management program significantly increased 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 students in an emergency financial assistance only treatment arm and the control group. This study complements existing evidence on financial and information programs designed to increase enrollment rates and is most closely related to the small set of studies examining coaching and mentoring interventions to help students.

James Sullivan is the Gilbert F. Schaefer College Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame. He has been a visiting scholar at the National Poverty Center and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, and he currently serves as a national Phi Betta Kappa Visiting Scholar. He was recently appointed to the U.S. Commission on Social Impact Partnerships and he serves on the National Poverty Center Advisory Board. His research examines the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs at the national, state, and local level. He also studies the consumption, saving, and borrowing behavior of poor households, as well as poverty and inequality measurement. In 2012, with fellow Notre Dame Professor William Evans, Professor Sullivan founded the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO). LEO is a research center that works with service providers and policymakers to identify effective and scalable solutions to reduce poverty in America. Sullivan received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.