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The Effect of Postsecondary Coenrollment on College Success: Initial Evidence and Implications for Policy and Future Research

Issue/Topic: Postsecondary Success--Completion; Postsecondary Success--Retention/Persistence; Postsecondary Academic Affairs--Transfer/Articulation
Author(s): Wang, Xueli; McCready, Bo
Organization(s): American Educational Research Association
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published On: 9/16/2013

Background:
Coenrollment-- simultaneous enrollment at multiple postsecondary institutions during the same academic term-- is rising in prevalence among college students. There is a pressing need to understand better how enrollment patterns influence the long-term educational outcomes of students following non-traditional pathways through postsecondary education.

Purpose:
To estimate the extent to which postsecondary coenrollment affects the educational attainment and postsecondary persistence of students beginning at community colleges and 4-year institutions

Findings/Results:
Findings suggest that coenrollment had a significant positive effect on educational attainment and postsecondary persistence for students who began at community college and for those who began at a 4-year institution. Coenrollment itself is a meaningful factor instead of merely a proxy for an academic program-related trend.
  • The positive effect of coenrollment on persistence and attainment is stronger for students who began at community college than for those who began at a 4-year college.

  • Beginning 4-year college students who coenrolled were 2.581 times more likely to persist compared to others beginning at a 4-year but did not coenroll.

  • Those beginning in community college were 4.034 times more likely to persist than those not coenrolled and 2.351 times more likely to attain a credential.

  • Students had no substantial differences in their GPA during semesters when they were coenrolled and during semesters when they were not.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
Coenrollment should not be regarded as a red flag. Instead, it offers an alternative pathway that does not appear significantly more difficult than enrollment at only one institution and may in fact provide some significant benefits. The availability of coenrollment options might afford the much needed flexibility and wider range of course options some students need in order to persist in postsecondary education. However, the evidence to date is not yet at a level that warrants encouraging the expansion of coenrollment programs across the board. A greater understanding of coenrollment could inform policy choices surrounding coenrollment, intercollegiate articulation agreements and course-tracking systems. For instance, if a student coenrolls for multiple semesters before earning a degree from their primary institution, the additional institution(s) may receive no credit or even be penalized for their role in the student's postsecondary career.

Research Design:
Longitudinal Study

Population/Participants/Subjects:
More than 18,000 students who were part of the Beginning Postsecondary Longitudinal Study and its supplementary transcript data: Postsecondary Education Transcript Study

Year data is from:
2003-2009

Setting:
National

Data Collection and Analysis:
Researchers used the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS: 04/09) and its supplementary transcript data: Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS:09). These datasets followed a cohort of students who first enrolled in postsecondary education during the 2003-2004 academic year.

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