Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment


Many community college students enroll part time or inconsistently, and the more time they spend out of school, the less likely they are to graduate. That's why we're learning whether attending summer school can help more students graduate and graduate faster.


With our support during the 2017 and 2018 summer terms, MDRC is conducting a three-way randomized controlled trial to:

  1. Evaluate whether summer enrollment increases graduation rates and speed to graduation.
  2. Determine the most effective method to motivate students to enroll in summer courses.

MDRC is dividing eligible students at each school into three test groups.

EASE Randomized Study Groups:

  • Group A: Colleges do what they normally do to encourage students to enroll in summer classes
  • Group B: Colleges use enhanced messaging that explains the financial and academic benefits of attending school over the summer
  • Group C: Colleges use the same enhanced messaging offered to Group B plus provide students with tuition assistance

The enhanced messaging used for those in Groups B and C was developed by MDRC using principles of behavioral science—the study of how we make decisions and what motivates us to take action. The messaging is crafted to help students overcome resistance to the idea of enrolling in summer school, such as a desire to take the summer off to relax or focus exclusively on work.

The EASE program involves approximately 9,600 students, divided among the three controlled trial groups. The colleges are primarily targeting first-year, low-income students who are enrolled in the spring term. By reaching students in their first year, the project seeks to instill the habit of continuous enrollment so students keep taking summer classes.

Four Ohio community colleges—Columbus State Community College, Marion Technical College, Southern State Community College and Stark State College—participated in the first phase of the study. They launched interventions during February and March 2017, either on or just prior to the day summer registration opened. Across the four colleges, 3,689 students are enrolled in the study. MDRC will continue working with the phase one colleges, and is currently working with six additional Ohio colleges for phase two: Clark State Community College, Lakeland Community College, North Central State Community College, Northwest State Community College, Rio Grande Community College and Sinclair Community College.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Education reinstated year-round Pell Grants for the 2017-2018 award year. This federal policy change affects phase two participants because students are now eligible for an additional semester of Pell Grant funding. MDRC adapted the study to accommodate the new policy.

MDRC's expertise in behavioral science and experience conducting randomized controlled trials makes them especially suited to carry out this work. In addition, Ohio is an ideal testing ground for this type of research, as the Ohio Department of Education reinstated the third-term Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) for community college students, providing partial aid to eligible students who enroll for the summer semester.

At the end of the grant period, MDRC will determine if students who attended summer school did, in fact, graduate faster and in greater numbers. It will further analyze what proved to be the best way to motivate students to enroll. MDRC will issue reports on the impact the study is having throughout its duration.


Contact Senior Program Manager Sue Cui at or (608) 294-8922.

October 19, 2017

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