Assistant Professor Rachel Baker has been awarded a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research study: "Structural Barriers to Academic Success: The Case of Complex Curricular Requirements in Community Colleges." Dr. Baker's research focuses on educational policy, inequality, higher education, and the economics of education.
NAEd/Spencer fellowships provide $70,000 support for early career scholars making significant scholarly contributions in critical areas of education research. Thirty highly qualified recipients are selected each year.
Major requirements in college are complex. Research has found that students report being confused when trying to determine which classes they need to take to graduate. Psychologists and behavioral economists have long found that complex decisions lead to worse outcomes, both in terms of non-ideal choices and postponed decisions, and many administrators and policy makers believe that curricular complexity may be partially responsible for community colleges’ low graduation rates. But these kinds of structural barriers have received very little research attention.
In this study, I will examine the effect of the complexity of major requirements on student outcomes. I will do so by calculating three measures of complexity for dozens of majors in California Community Colleges and computing the relationship between these measures and student success and efficiency outcomes. To control for potential biases that could affect my results, I will use two analytic strategies: (1) leveraging the differences in complexity across departments in the same college and across colleges in the same department, and (2) taking advantage of the fact that major requirements, and their inherent complexity, change. Results from my study will provide direct guidance to schools on how to structure major requirements to maximize student success.