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Sade Bonilla

Sade Bonilla, Veronica Minaya.

Community colleges are a critical component of the U.S. higher education system, providing access to students from traditionally underserved communities. However, enduring challenges to completion stemming from educational, economic, and social inequities persist. Building on prior work that examines barriers to student success and their relationship to student outcomes, this descriptive study examines the relationship between students’ time utilization, engagement with campus resources, financial and mental well-being, with academic persistence. Specifically, we examine the relative importance of these barriers on students’ educational attainment. We find that the incidence of adverse mental health is comparable to 4-year undergraduate populations. The rates of food and housing insecurity are comparable to previous studies, though strikingly high. While a plurality of respondents engage with multiple campus resources, this engagement is unrelated to their propensity to remain enrolled or complete additional credits. Most notably, mental health conditions were negatively related to persistence and credit accumulation, while the relationship between academic outcomes and measures of food and housing insecurity was smaller and not significant. Our findings suggest that facilitating access to mental health supports is a prominent avenue for supporting student engagement and success.

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Sade Bonilla, Alexander Thim.

In this study, we examine an at-scale effort to encourage the formation of career pathways in California, with the goal of estimating the initiative’s causal effects on community college enrollment. We leverage a discontinuous assignment rule used to award grant funds to obtain credibly causal estimates of an ambitious $500 million effort to expand and establish career and technical education pathways between K-12 and community colleges. The competitive grant application process used a standardized rubric, and those receiving a score above a predetermined threshold were awarded funding (i.e., treatment group) while those just below received no funding (i.e., control group), allowing for a regression discontinuity (RD) design. We found that successful grantees did not experience overall enrollment increases in postsecondary partnerships; however, there were enrollment increases of 13.5 percent to 14.8 percent in CTE health sector courses, the program targeted the most for expansion. Manufacturing, and information communication technology, the other programs with the most expanded offerings, experienced no increases in postsecondary enrollment. The enrollment increases for the health sector were concentrated amongst female students in line with earlier findings by Bonilla (2020) documenting reductions in high school dropout rates for female students. These findings suggest that partnerships between K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions may be a viable avenue for increasing alignment between enrollment and high- growth sectors.

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