Estimating the effect of magnitude of exposure to developmental education on college student outcomes across sectors
Turk, Jonathan Matthew
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Approximately 1.8 million first-year undergraduates enroll in developmental education each year. According to recent national estimates, less than half of students who start in developmental education go on to complete gateway courses and less than one-third eventually earn a degree. These troubling statistics have led to a belief among many in the higher education policy community that developmental education is responsible for students’ lack of persistence. The purpose of this study was to comprehensively analyze the effects of developmental education on key student outcomes by using state-of-the-art quasi-experimental techniques to more accurately estimate causal relationships. The outcomes of interest were college-level gateway math and English completion, associate’s degree completion, upward transfer, and bachelor’s degree completion. This study relied on propensity score modeling procedures to account for the non-random assignment into the treatment conditions. Four binary treatment conditions were evaluated to explore the impact of enrolling in and passing developmental courses. Furthermore, propensity score matching for multivalued treatment conditions or dose-response analysis was used to model the average causal effects of enrolling in various quantities of developmental education on the outcomes of interest. To estimate the effects of interest and to further validate the use of the dose-response technique, two nationally representative datasets—the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:02/12) and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88/00)—were used. Overall, this study found claims of developmental education’s negative impact on student outcomes to be overstated for students entering the two-year sector directly from high school but accurate for these students entering the four-year sector. When two groups of statistically similar students were compared, developmental education generally improved outcomes for students enrolled in less-than-four-year institutions, but worsened the outcomes for students in four-year institutions. Furthermore, this research found students who completed one or two developmental courses generally fared better than students who required three or more developmental courses. The final chapter of this dissertation presents implications and recommendations for policymakers and practitioners.