"Learning Communities STEM Education: Evaluating the Impact of the Enhanced Academic Student Experience Initiative (EASE)"
American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting
Theme: Leveraging Educational Research in a “Post-Truth” Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence
April 5-9, 2019
Title: Learning Communities STEM Education: Evaluating the Impact of the Enhanced Academic Student Experience Initiative (EASE) (Paper)
Session: Promoting STEM Success and Persistence for Traditionally Disadvantaged Students: Evaluating Higher Education Student Success Programs
Authors: Sabrina Solanki, Di Xu, Peter McPartlan, Brian Sato
Abstract: The proposed study is an evaluation of a year-long learning communities program -- the Enhanced Academic Student Experience initiative (EASE) -- for incoming Biological Sciences (BioSci) majors at a large Hispanic-serving institution in California. EASE groups hundreds of incoming BioSci majors into cohorts of 30, co-enrolls these student cohorts in all first-year Biology and Chemistry courses, and provides participants with study skills support, increased academic counseling, and weekly meetings with a mentor. Selection into the program is determined by a strict cutoff on SAT-math scores at 600, providing an opportunity to assess the impact of EASE with a regression discontinuity design (RD). Analyses of the 2016 entering cohort (Cohort 1) show excellent compliance with the selection cutoff and promising short-run impacts on academic and non-cognitive outcome measures of social integration. The proposed study will take advantage of data collected during the 2017 academic year to: (i) examine longer-term outcomes such as two-year cumulative GPA and two-year retention for the 2016 cohort (Cohort 1); (ii) conduct a replication study of one- and two-year outcomes using data from the 2017 cohort (Cohort 2); and (iii) extend the 2017 analysis to include heterogeneous impact of the EASE program by student demographic characteristics.
The sample of this study includes all BioSci freshmen majors who entered during Fall 2016 (Cohort 1, N=1081) and Fall 2017 (Cohort 2, N=1110). Data for this study comes from multiple sources. Specifically, the institution’s Registrar Office provided information on student demographic characteristics, as well as transcripts. We also collected program-level data recording enrollment and participation in the EASE program. Academic and social-emotional engagement measures were collected through three waves of surveys – providing our non-cognitive outcomes.
The basic implementation of the RD design identifies the impact of the EASE program by comparing outcomes of students who score barely above the 600 SAT cutoff scores with those who score barely below; these students sharply differ in EASE assignment, yet are otherwise very similar. We will also include a heterogeneity analysis using a difference-in-difference strategy. This analysis will examine the impact of the EASE program by looking at changes in both the control group (students with greater than 600 on SAT-math) and treatment group (students with less than 600 on SAT-math) over time, that is, during years when EASE was not offered (before the 2015 academic year) and during years when EASE was offered (academic years 2016 and 2017) for each subgroup population.
Preliminary results show that the positive treatment effects found for the fall 2016 cohort in year 1 were sustained in year 2. Specifically, EASE students continued to earn higher cumulative GPAs than their non-EASE counterparts. The full set of results using both cohort 1 and 2 data including heterogeneity analysis and specific policy implications will be discussed during the AERA presentation.