"The Effects of Free Classes Over the Summer: A Fee-Incentive Program to Increase Summer Session Enrollment"
Kansas City, Missouri
March 21-23, 2019
Title: The Effects of Free Classes Over the Summer: A Fee-Incentive Program to Increase Summer Session Enrollment
Session: Designing College Financial Aid to Increase Efficiency
Authors: Sabrina Solanki, Rachel Baker, Di Xu
Today, less than 50% of full-time students enrolled in four-year degree-granting institutions graduate within four years. In fact, bachelor’s degree earners take on average 5.1 academic years to earn their degree (National Student Clearinghouse, 2016). Lengthy time to degree is not only directly related to student success, such as increased likelihood of degree completion, but also to college costs. With each additional semester of enrollment students forfeit wages and institutions devote resources that would otherwise be allocated to new students. Understanding ways to foster timely graduation is an important topic to address for both researchers and institutional administrators; further, it is of particular interest to policymakers focused on facilitating the U.S. college completion agenda.
Of the ways to increase timely graduation, encouraging students to enroll in courses over the summer has been gaining more attention among researchers and policymakers. Academic momentum theory helps to explain why summer session could decrease time to degree. Pioneered by Adelman (1999, 2006), academic momentum theory posits that undergraduates who proceed through college at a certain rate are more likely to complete their degrees than otherwise similar students who progress more slowly or who interrupt their studies. Enrolling in summer session facilitates continuous study. Motivated by Adelman’s theory, this study evaluates the effect of a program aimed at increasing enrollment in summer session on a number of academic outcomes.
To date, only a few empirical studies have investigated the relationship between summer session and student outcomes in the postsecondary context. While many of these studies identify positive relationships, most are unable to offer causal estimates. For example, Attewell, Heil, and Reisel (2012) found evidence of a summer effect; specifically, students who enrolled in summer session following freshmen year were more likely to graduate (estimates ranged from 4.3 to 10.7 percentage points depending on model specification). One recent study provides plausibly causal estimates. Liu (2016), using an instrumental variable approach, found that summer enrollees returned to college at a higher rate, completed more credits in the following fall, and had higher bachelor’s degree completion rates than summer non-enrollees.
In this study we add to the body of literature about the effects of strategies to increase summer enrollment for college students. With state support since 2001, the University of California (UC) system campuses have implemented strategies to encourage more students to participate in the summer term and to increase summer unit loads. This study evaluates one of those strategies: Pay for 8, a summer session incentive program implemented at the UC Irvine campus. Pay for 8 is a full-time fee incentive program in which students who pay for eight units can take up to eight more for free. Pay for 8 was first offered in the 2006-2007 academic school year. In the 12 years since, it has been offered intermittently: 2007-08, 2008-09, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2016-17, and 2017-18.
The study has two aims: 1) describe patterns of enrollment in summer session during Pay for 8 years and non-Pay for 8 years and 2) take advantage of the fact that Pay for 8 was offered in some years but not others to evaluate the causal impact of Pay for 8 on academic outcomes.
Our analysis will use student-level transcript data from UC Irvine that include five cohorts of students entering college between fall 2008 and fall 2012. Leveraging the fact that cohorts of students were exposed to different amounts of “treatment” (summers in which Pay for 8 was in effect), we will analyze the effect of Pay for 8 on a number of important academic outcomes. Because treatment is not collinear with time (due to the pattern of treated summers, year of entry does not predict treatment dosage), our analysis reduces selection bias by controlling for secular trends as well as a number of important student-level covariates. We will focus on the following outcome measures: summer enrollment, course load, unit load, course completion rate, and time to degree. We find that Pay for 8 did not seem to induce more students to enroll in summer classes, but it did induce those who enrolled to take more classes. The proportion of students enrolled in at least three summer session courses (equivalent to twelve units) during Pay for 8 summers is roughly five percentage points higher than non Pay for 8 summers. The full set of results – including estimates of the effects of Pay for 8 on graduation outcomes – in addition to specific policy implications, will be discussed during the AEFP presentation.