Any retention effort works a little bit, some of the time
Sara Goldrick-Rab, who co-authored the report, notes with some irony that her home institution of Wisconsin has actually made reducing class size a key initiative.
“The things they are putting their stock in right now are not necessarily the most cost-effective,” said Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology. “The problem here is we have leaders without good information.”
“There’s not much evidence to suggest that reducing class size is going to do much of anything, and there is some evidence that it’s an expensive thing to do,” she added.
So what does improve degree completion productivity? Apart from using more full-time faculty, there’s evidence to suggest that something as basic as picking up a phone and calling students who’ve missed class makes a big difference at relatively little cost, the paper notes. The researchers drew upon data from Des Moines Area Community College, which created a call center and found that the persistence rates were between 2 and 15 percentage points higher among students with whom they had conversations than among those whom were only left voicemails. While the data are limited, the college's experiment suggests outreach and student contact matter, the paper notes.
Because call centers are relatively inexpensive, a college could produce just a few additional degrees with that method and still be more cost-effective than a popular program like Upward Bound, which supports low-income students but comes at a high cost, the report finds.