UChicago Inclusive Economy Lab finds community college support program significantly improves degree attainment


Providing comprehensive supports to community college students significantly increases their chances of obtaining an associate degree within three years, according to new results published today by the University of Chicago Inclusive Economy Lab (formerly known as the Poverty Lab).

Students who were offered the opportunity to participate in One Million Degrees (OMD), a Chicago-based organization providing wrap-around support to community college students from low-income backgrounds, were 9 percent more likely to earn an associate degree within three years. This effect was driven by students who enrolled in the program, who were 18 percent more likely to earn a degree within three years. The study, Supporting Community College Student Success: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial, can be found here.

The study also revealed that students benefit most when offered OMD supports – from tutors and coaches to financial assistance and professional development – early in the college application and enrollment process. OMD participants who applied to the program during their senior year of high school were 73 percent more likely to graduate in three years, compared to similar students who applied to the program during their senior year of high school but were not randomly selected to receive an offer to participate.

These interim findings are part of an eight-year research partnership between the Inclusive Economy Lab and One Million Degrees. Two years ago, the Inclusive Economy Lab reported that community college students who were offered a spot in OMD were 13 percent more likely to enroll full time and 11 percent more likely to persist through their first year. Students who accepted the offer to participate in OMD were 35 percent more likely to enroll full-time and 47 percent more likely to persist full-time in their first year. Future phases of the study will examine the program’s impact on students’ employment and earnings.

An overwhelming majority of Chicago Public Schools high school students say they want to attend college. Meanwhile, researchers estimate that 65 percent of US jobs require postsecondary education, and free community college has been a major priority for President Biden. As open-access institutions, community colleges are a critical resource for students looking for a relatively less expensive and more flexible option to attain a degree on their terms. The American Association of Community Colleges reports that the median earnings of a full-time employee with an associate degree are over 40 percent higher than those of a high school graduate.

Click here to read the full report.

Back to News
Related articles