Early Momentum Metrics

College graduation, whether it applies to a diploma or certification, is obviously an important goal in the push to improve student achievement. However, some benchmarks take place earlier in a student’s academic career that are highly predictive of later success.

The Community College Research Center has published a brief on Early Momentum Metrics: Why They Matter for College Improvement. The authors are Davis Jenkins and Thomas Bailey, respected researchers in the field.

Here are three metrics that appear to be important:

1. Credit momentum—defined as attempting at least 15 semester credits in the first term or at least 30 semester credits in the first academic year. Credit momentum is easy to measure and emphasizes the need to accumulate credits to arrive at completion. However, because it does not consider the content of the credits, on its own it does not provide much insight into the effects of reforms to college-level programs.

2. Gateway momentum—defined as taking and passing pathway-appropriate college-level math and college-level English in the first academic year. Gateway momentum begins to focus attention on the content of credits. It also provides an indicator of the extent to which colleges have removed barriers to success created by traditional prerequisite remediation (Jaggars, Edgecombe, & Stacey, 2014; Scott-Clayton & Rodríguez, 2012), and how much they have moved to integrate academic support into college-level coursework.

3. Program momentum—defined as taking and passing at least nine semester credits (three courses) in the student’s field of study in the first academic year. Program momentum is a more explicit indicator of the potential effect of reforms such as program maps and redesigned intake advising on student outcomes. This indicator is more meaningful if the college’s programs are coherent and well organized.

Alert readers will note that some of these metrics resemble the Student Success Points found in the Outcomes-Based funding model in Texas, used to reward schools for improvement, constituting ten percent of instructional formula funding for community colleges. In fact, if you look carefully at the Texas plan from the Texas Association of Community Colleges, it is based on some of the same research cited in the CCRC report.

You can peruse the CCRC document for details. (When you get to the table, please focus on the column on the right, describing the role of community colleges and their students.)

The entire report is only eight pages long, presented succinctly. If the concepts discussed in the document don’t seem familiar yet, they probably will be soon.

Obviously, listing metrics and accomplishing them are very different tasks, but a structure is taking shape for more valid and timely measurement.