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Do Community College Students Benefit from Federal Work Study Participation?

by Hongwei Yu, Lyle McKinney & Vincent D. Carales - 2020

Background: Prior studies suggest that Federal Work-Study (FWS) participation is positively associated with student learning, persistence, and academic achievement at four-year institutions. Limited research, however, has evaluated whether FWS participation improves academic success among students attending community colleges.

Purpose and Research Questions: The purpose of this study was to determine whether and how FWS participation impacted academic performance and enrollment outcomes among a racially/ethnically diverse sample of students attending a large, urban community college (UCC) system in Texas. There were two research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of students at UCC who participated in FWS, compared with their peers who did not participate? (2) After controlling for self-selection bias, are there significant differences in academic success (i.e., cumulative GPA; credential attainment and/or four-year transfer) among UCC students who did and did not participate in the FWS program?

Research Design: The longitudinal data set (fall 2010 through summer 2016) analyzed in this study was built using detailed student-level transcript data records. The full sample included 8,837 students who had filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (a necessary step to receive FWS funding), but the primary focus was on the subsample of FWS participants (n = 260). Descriptive analysis was performed to compare the demographic and academic characteristics of FWS participants with nonparticipants. To assuage self-selection bias, propensity score matching (nearest neighbor matching algorithm) was used to match similar students who did and did not participate in FWS. We employed multiple regression and logistic regression techniques on the matched data to investigate whether FWS participation was associated with students’ academic outcomes.

Results: Relative to their non-FWS peers, FWS participants at this community college were more likely to be female, African American, 24 years of age or older, very low income, and academically underprepared. After successfully matching FWS participants with similar non-FWS participants, results indicated that FWS participation was associated with a higher cumulative GPA and significantly higher odds of credential completion and/or vertical transfer.

Conclusions: There are important equity implications in our findings; the results suggest that the FWS program can improve educational outcomes for student populations that are often marginalized and underserved by the higher education system. We describe several ways that the FWS program could be redesigned and expanded to better meet the needs of community college students.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 1, 2020, p. 1-36
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23182, Date Accessed: 3/5/2021 3:07:09 PM

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About the Author
  • Hongwei Yu
    Texas State University
    E-mail Author
    HONGWEI YU serves as a graduate faculty member at Texas State University. His research interests include student persistence and academic achievement, academic misconduct, and organizational leadership. His research appears in peer-reviewed journals such as Ethics and Behavior and Review of Higher Education.
  • Lyle McKinney
    University of Houston
    E-mail Author
    LYLE MCKINNEY is an associate professor in the Higher Education Leadership & Policy Studies program at the University of Houston. His research focuses on improving degree completion rates among community college students. His recent publications include “Giving Up on a Course: An Analysis of Course Dropping Behaviors Among Community College Students,” published in Research in Higher Education, and “Performance-Based Funding for Community Colleges: Are Colleges Disadvantaged by Serving the Most Disadvantaged Students?,” published in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Vincent Carales
    University of Houston
    E-mail Author
    VINCENT D. CARALES is an assistant professor in Higher Education Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Houston. His research interests center on understanding the experiences and educational outcomes of first-generation, Latino, low-income, and community college students. He is also interested in examining federal, state, and institutional policies related to diversity, equity, and college affordability. His research appears in peer-reviewed journals such as Mentoring & Tutoring, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, and Community College Review.
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