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Bridging the college completion gap with comprehensive support systems: A mixed-methods impact evaluation of the Dell Scholars Program

Kehoe, Stacy (2017) Bridging the college completion gap with comprehensive support systems: A mixed-methods impact evaluation of the Dell Scholars Program. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Despite widespread efforts to address barriers to college success, low-income and first-generation students continue to complete college at substantially lower rates that their more advantaged peers. A review of causal research to date has linked comprehensive interventions (e.g. programs that provide students with a combination of financial, academic and social support) to promising persistence and degree attainment outcomes for low-income and first-generation students. However, the body of causal research on the impact of these type of interventions remains nascent. This mixed-methods dissertation study contributes to this critical research area by using rigorous quasi-experimental methods to examine the impact of the Dell Scholars Program on the college persistence trajectories of its participants. An earlier regression-discontinuity study revealed large and significant impacts on degree attainment rates. Specifically, the study found that the program has a 9 percentage-point and 16 percentage-point impacts on four- and six-year bachelor’s degree completion rates, respectively (Page, Castleman, Kehoe, & Sahadewo, 2017). This work builds off this prior investigation in two important ways. First, I couple difference-in-differences and matching analytic strategies to estimate program impacts for Dell Scholars beyond the selection threshold. I find significant impacts on persistence, degree attainment, stopout rates, and dropout rates. To explore the mechanisms underlying these impacts, I estimate first-difference impact estimates on first-year loan borrowing behavior, academic progress, and academic achievement.

I find significant program effects for all outcomes, with notably larger impacts for students enrolled in less selective institutions. In the second part of my study, I move beyond the question of whether the Dell Scholars Program impacts enrollment and degree completion outcomes to address the critical question of how the program achieves successful results. I conduct an explanatory case study that draws on interviews with program staff and students, program administrative data, observations and program artifacts. I identify four key program components that drive the observed causal impacts: the program’s use of a proactive, data-informed support system that is highly responsive to persistence risk indicators; the program model’s flexible, client-focused practices; the program’s work environment and staff background; and the implementation of continuous quality improvement strategies.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Kehoe, Stacyssk32@pitt.edussk320000-0001-9583-6916
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairRussell,
Committee MemberPage,
Committee MemberAkiva,
Committee MemberSchunn,
Date: 25 September 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 17 May 2017
Approval Date: 25 September 2017
Submission Date: 31 July 2017
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 202
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Learning Sciences and Policy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Postsecondary success; quasi-experimental
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2017 17:46
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2022 05:15

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