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.
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Credits earned in summer 2014 were not included in the analyses, in that only 39 (2.3%) study participants completed one or more courses in that term.
We did not single out college-level mathematics as in the previous literature (e.g., Adelman, 1998, 2006). Instead, we intended to illustrate a global level of academic effort students have invested in all STEM disciplines. Examples of courses that were considered regular, college-level STEM courses include Analytic Geometry and Calculus, College Mathematics, Chemical Processes, Principles of Biology, etc.
Our decision to combine adult basic education and remedial courses into one category in LPA warrants some discussion. Adult basic education courses are for students who do not hold a high school diploma; whereas remedial courses are required for students who hold a high school diploma but did not pass the placement test. As our target population included those who were taking at least one college-level STEM course in their first semester at the participating two-year colleges, these students should have minimal coursework in adult basic education and remedial courses, a pattern we indeed observed (see Table 1). To avoid creating multiple categories with minimal observations in each, which poses analytical constraints, these two types of courses were combined into one category as an imperfect measure of students’ coursework that is preparatory in nature.
While co-enrollment among two-year college students is on the rise (e.g., Wang and Wickersham, 2014), it is not prominent among the study participants. According to the NSC data, 19 out of the 1,668 baseline study participants (1.1%) were co-enrolled in more than one postsecondary institution. Due to the limitation of data, only the courses completed in the participating colleges were analyzed.
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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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Chan, H., Wang, X. Momentum Through Course-Completion Patterns Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM: Variations and Contributing Factors. Res High Educ 59, 704–743 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-017-9485-8
- Academic momentum
- Course completion
- Community college
- 2-year college
- Latent transition analysis