Supplemental Study: Evaluation of Early Start Developmental Education Policy

Students exploring college campus in summer

Completing developmental coursework in the summer before starting college—rather than during the first term of college—could be an important way to keep underprepared students from falling behind their college-ready peers, who begin to accumulate college-level credits in their first semester of college enrollment. Yet taking such courses in the summer before college may be insufficient to adequately boost college-level skills; moreover, students may find it difficult to commit time, effort, and resources to developmental courses over the summer.

To evaluate whether such a reform measure improves student outcomes, CAPR is studying the Early Start policy at the California State University (CSU) system. The primary goal of Early Start is to have students enter their first year of college at CSU having met their developmental education needs in the summer before their freshman year. To evaluate this bold policy, CAPR will address the following questions:

  1. How was Early Start implemented across the CSU campuses?
  2. Did the Early Start policy have an impact on persistence rates and achievement at CSU among students identified as in need of remediation prior to college, and are there differences across the campuses?
  3. Are college-level differences in outcomes attributable to differences in Early Start implementation strategies?

The Study Design

The study considers first-time freshman students at all 23 CSU campuses between 2008–2009 and 2014–2015 (approximately 80,000 students annually). Using student application, admission, and enrollment data, along with English and math placement test results, credit accumulation, academic performance (college GPA by semester), and persistence in subsequent semesters, the study compares the college outcomes of first-time freshman students before and after Early Start was mandated system-wide at CSU. Due to the recent implementation of Early Start, the study will focus on measuring short-run outcomes (enrollment, completion of remedial coursework requirements, and academic performance in year one) and medium-run outcomes (persistence to year two, persistence to year three, academic performance, and credit accumulation).

To explore differences in Early Start implementation across the campuses, the study will review published materials on Early Start at each CSU campus website. A survey will be used to gather detailed information on how each campus has implemented Early Start. Finally, the study will use an empirical approach to verify compliance through administrative data provided by the Chancellor’s Office on Early Start participation.