New UH Study Uses Transcripts to Track the Success of Community College Students

College of Education Research is Supported by $90K Grant from the Greater Texas Foundation

The Greater Texas Foundation (GTF) has awarded University of Houston Assistant Professor Lyle McKinney $90,000 to study the success of community college students.  The funds will be available over a three-year period.

McKinney of the UH College of Education will analyze the transcripts of more than 8,000 community college students to understand how they select courses, when they reached academic milestones and how financial aid factors into their choice of classes. Transcripts can provide longitudinal perspective about students’ behaviors and the many factors that contribute to their success.Prof. Lyle McKinney

“The open-access mission of the community college plays a vital role in providing a pathway to the middle class for students who have traditionally been underrepresented in American higher education,” McKinney said. “Strategies that help significantly increase completion rates at community colleges are desperately needed, particularly given the increased focus on performance-based funding. Access without success is a failure for the student and the college.”

The funds from the Greater Texas Foundation are part of its Faculty Fellowship Program and a $360,000 allocation to support tenure-track faculty working in areas related to student post-secondary success.  McKinney is one of four Texas assistant professors who will receive the funds.

“Some students take courses almost at random, without sufficient information about prerequisites and unsure whether certain courses will count toward their intended credential,” McKinney said. “Transcript analyses will help answer an important question, namely, what are the right courses, taken in the right sequence, that can lead to academic achievement.”

While marking the rate at which various groups of students achieve milestones (such as earning first college credit, transferring to a four-year institution), McKinney will  examine those students at highest risk for dropping out of school, namely low-income, minority males and part-time students.  He’ll also examine how the financial aid they use -- whether loans, grant or other -- determine how many classes are taken and at what time.

“This can help policymakers understand how to best allocate limited state financial aid dollars to community college students and help financial aid offices better educate students about using funds in ways that help them continue their academic momentum,” McKinney said.

The Greater Texas Foundation supports efforts to ensure all Texas students are prepared for, have access to, persist in, and complete a postsecondary education. GTF puts particular focus on helping underserved and disadvantaged populations. GTF pursues its mission by forming partnerships, supporting research, sharing knowledge and making grants. From 2001 through 2012, the foundation’s grantmaking totaled nearly $40 million from more than 400 grants.