Improving Outcomes for Community College Students

Unfinished work

In recent years, the percentage of adults receiving community college certificates and the demand for workers who have completed these certificate programs has increased dramatically. On average, certificate holders earn 20 percent more than high school graduates without any postsecondary education, yet only about half of community college students earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment.

In spite of these trends, many of those who do complete their programs aren’t able to find well-paying jobs with opportunities for advancement in their area of training, even as many employers in metro Detroit say they’re not able to fill job vacancies in high-demand fields like information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing.

This project seeks to bridge these gaps by developing and testing an intervention that will likely include financial incentives for students who enroll and stay in school, improved student support services, and partnerships that connect students with employers in fields that have good job and advancement prospects.

About the partners

National Poverty Center (NPC)

The NPC is a research center within the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School for Public Policy. It is a hub for multidisciplinary, policy-relevant research that informs public discourse on the causes and consequences of poverty and on the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies.


MDRC is a nonprofit education and social research organization with offices in New York and California. MDRC has extensive experience designing randomized controlled trials across a range of educational and workforce development programs focused on community college students.

Using what we know

MDRC studies have identified some proven interventions that strengthen community college completion rates, including:

  • Performance based scholarships
  • Enhanced career counseling and advising
  • Connecting students with employers

With CARSS support, the project team is working to develop a model that integrates these interventions, combining and perhaps magnifying their impacts.

First steps

The project leadership held a kick-off meeting June 20, 2012 at MDRC’s New York office. A large number of MDRC staff attended and contributed helpful suggestions and advice for the project’s early stages, which will include:

  • Contacting community colleges, employers, and organizations already working on these issues.
  • Building cooperative arrangements and partnerships.
  • Identifying the students to be targeted, and
  • Determining the core components of the intervention.