New Report Finds Completing More College Credits in First Year, Earning Strong GPA, and Dual Enrollment to be Key Predictors of Community College Student Success

Washington, DC (September 19, 2017) – The strongest overall predictors of credential completion among direct-from-high school community college students are completing more credits during the first year of college and earning a strong GPA, according to a paper released today by the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS), with support from global edtech leader Hobsons.

The report, “Identifying Predictors of Credential Completion Among Beginning Community College Students,” cited completing dual-enrollment courses, taking a college entrance exam before leaving high school, and enrolling in community college soon after leaving high school as other significant indicators of postsecondary certificate or degree completion. In fact, students who enrolled in community college within three months of graduating from high school were nearly 11 percent more likely to earn a credential than students who delayed their enrollment.

The research brief is the second installment in a four-part series examining the educational journeys of high school graduates who enroll in community college directly after high school. The research project analyzes data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS), a nationally representative study of students who began 10th grade in 2002 and were tracked over a 10-year period.

“Community colleges ensure millions of students each year have access to the benefits of postsecondary education,” said Jonathan Turk, senior policy research analyst, CPRS. “However, while access is important, it holds little value if students cannot complete their education. This series of work will hopefully continue to shed light on what can be done to reduce barriers to student success for this particular student population.”

The type of decisions a student makes in regard to college enrollment also swayed the likelihood of completing a certificate or degree program, the report says. Both enrolling in an out-of-state community college or enrolling part-time significantly lowered the probability of earning a postsecondary credential. Students who enrolled part-time at any point in their career were nearly 12 percent less likely to complete a certificate or degree than students who enrolled exclusively full-time.

Additionally, the frequency with which students met with an academic advisor was not associated with significant changes in the probability of earning a credential, suggesting that new academic and student support models are needed to increase community college student success.

Other key findings include:

  • Women were more likely to earn a college credential than men;
  • In general, students with higher levels of socioeconomic status were more likely to earn a credential;
  • Significant racial differences in completion were found and;
  • Direct-from-high school students who participated in extracurricular activities when first enrolled in community college were more likely to earn a credential.

Drawing from the results of the study and previous research, the report also offers resources and recommendations for policymakers and education leaders to consider in order to improve credential completion for community college students.

“A postsecondary credential remains one of the best investments individuals can make for their futures,” said Ellen Wagner, vice president of research, Hobsons. “This research, and our ongoing partnership with ACE, is an important part of Hobsons’ efforts to support K-12 and higher education in building the pathways we know are essential to ensure students have the best foundation for success.”

Wagner, Turk, and David Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214, will discuss the report during a free webinar on Oct. 5, at 2:00 p.m. ET/11:00 a.m. PT. Click here to learn more details and to register.

To download the full report, click here.


About the Center for Policy Research and Strategy

The American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS) pursues thought leadership at the intersection of public policy and institutional strategy. CPRS provides senior postsecondary leaders and public policymakers with an evidence base to responsibly promote emergent practices in higher education with an emphasis on long-term and systemic solutions for an evolving higher education landscape and changing American demographic.

About ACE

Celebrating its centennial in 2018, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions, representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and related associations. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy. For more information, please visit or follow ACE on Twitter @ACEducation.


About Hobsons

Hobsons helps students identify their strengths, explore careers, create academic plans, match to best-fit educational opportunities, and reach their education and life goals. Through our solutions, including Naviance, Intersect, and Starfish, we enable thousands of educational institutions to improve college and career planning, admissions and best-fit matching, and student success and advising for millions of students around the globe.


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