Research in Higher Education

, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 704–743 | Cite as

Momentum Through Course-Completion Patterns Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM: Variations and Contributing Factors

  • Hsun-Yu Chan
  • Xueli WangEmail author


Grounded in the academic momentum framework, this study explores course-completion patterns across the first two semesters of college among 1668 first-time students beginning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs or courses at public 2-year colleges in a Midwestern state, as well as factors predicting the persistence or changes in these patterns. We use latent transition analysis as the main analytical strategy, based on a combination of student survey data, transcript records, and data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Our findings reveal three major course-completion patterns in the first semester of college (i.e., transfer, vocational, and exploring) and four patterns in the second semester (i.e., transfer, vocational, associate degree, and leaving). More than 60% of the study sample exhibits consistent course-completion patterns in the first year of college. Students persisting in the transfer and vocational patterns in both semesters are more likely to retain their interest in STEM fields in the second year. In addition, we uncover salient predictors for transitions in course-completion patterns between the two semesters. For example, students’ self-reported financial support for attending college is positively associated with switching into the vocational pattern, but perceived support from peers seems to prompt students from the vocational to the transfer pattern. As a whole, our findings pinpoint the importance of a holistic understanding of how the mass, velocity, and direction of academic momentum through course-completion patterns develop and shift over time, as well as how a range of learning, academic, and social factors help shape 2-year college students’ academic trajectory.


Academic momentum Course completion STEM Community college 2-year college Latent transition analysis 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-1430642. The authors would like to thank the institutional researchers at the study sites, Yen Lee, and Seo Young Lee for their assistance in data collection and analysis, and the anonymous reviewers for the helpful comments.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Special EducationTexas A&M University-CommerceCommerceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational Leadership and Policy AnalysisUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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