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Student success courses (for 4-year college students)

Higher Education
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2018.  Literature review updated September 2017.
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This topic explores the impact of student success courses and similar freshman seminars at 4-year colleges and universities. Included studies examine the impact of a for-credit course designed to teach first-time students nonacademic skills and increase college readiness. The content of these courses can vary widely but generally includes topics like study skills, time management, academic planning, college orientation, and personal wellness.

Courses excluded from this topic include courses that are not for credit, bundled freshman courses, and courses built into living and learning communities (where all students in the course lived in on the same floor or in the same dorm).
The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2017). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $746 Benefits minus costs $2,581
Participants $1,754 Benefit to cost ratio $5.31
Others $1,247 Chance the program will produce
Indirect ($567) benefits greater than the costs 64 %
Total benefits $3,181
Net program cost ($599)
Benefits minus cost $2,581
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Benefits from changes to:1 Benefits to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Labor market earnings associated with higher education $1,285 $2,830 $1,247 $0 $5,363
Costs of higher education ($539) ($1,076) $0 ($266) ($1,881)
Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 ($301) ($301)
Totals $746 $1,754 $1,247 ($567) $3,181
Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $504 2006 Present value of net program costs (in 2017 dollars) ($599)
Comparison costs $0 2016 Cost range (+ or -) 30 %
Costs are based on the per-participant costs reported in in an evaluation of the Enhanced Opening Doors program (Weiss et al., 2011), which contains a student success course component. We estimate the per-participant cost as the total budgeted amount for the comparable student success course components, divided by the total number of budgeted classes. Additional adjustments are also made to account for the higher per-student expenditures at 4-year colleges relative to 2-year colleges. Weiss, M., Brock, T., Sommo, C., Rudd, T., & Turner, M.C. (2011). Serving community college students on probation: Four-year findings from Chaffey College's Opening Doors program. New York, NY: MDRC.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Estimated Cumulative Net Benefits Over Time (Non-Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in non-discounted dollars to simplify the “break-even” point from a budgeting perspective. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

^WSIPP’s benefit-cost model does not monetize this outcome.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
College grade point average^ 18 1 54 0.047 0.157 19 n/a n/a n/a 0.089 0.573
Persistence into 2nd year 18 4 671 0.143 0.071 19 0.143 0.071 19 0.269 0.005
Persistence into 3rd year 18 1 181 0.087 0.140 20 0.087 0.140 20 0.164 0.243
Persistence into 4th year 18 1 94 0.092 0.194 21 0.092 0.194 21 0.173 0.374
Persistence within 1st year 18 3 332 0.298 0.185 18 0.298 0.185 18 0.377 0.012

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Boudreau, C.A., & Kromrey, J.D. (1994). A longitudinal study of the retention and academic performance of participants in freshmen orientation course. Journal of College Student Development, 35 (6), 444-49.

Clark, M.H., & Cundiff, N.L. (2011). Assessing the effectiveness of a college freshman seminar using propensity score adjustments. Research in Higher Education, 52 (6), 616-639.

Hendel, D.D. (2006). Efficacy of participating in a first-year seminar on student satisfaction and retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 8 (4), 413-423.

Hoops, L.D., Yu, S.L., Burridge, A.B., & Wolters, C.A. (2015). Impact of a student success course on undergraduate academic outcomes. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 45 (2), 123-146.

Strumpf, G., & Hunt, P. (1993). The effects of an orientation course on the retention and academic standing of entering freshmen, controlling for the volunteer effect. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience, 5 (1), 7-14