“What Works” for Community College Students?

A Brief Synthesis of 20 Years of MDRC’s Randomized Controlled Trials


What works to help community college students progress academically? This brief synthesizes 20 years of rigorous research by MDRC, presenting new evidence about key attributes of community college interventions that are positively related to larger impacts on students’ academic progress.


Findings are based on a synthesis of evidence from 30 randomized controlled trials of 39 postsecondary interventions involving 60,000 students. The results of this research consistently indicate that the impacts of community college interventions increase with:

  • The comprehensiveness of the intervention, as measured by its number of components
  • The promotion of full-time enrollment (during fall and spring) and summer enrollment

Less consistent, but still promising evidence suggests the impacts of community college interventions also increase with the extent that they increase:

  • Advising use among students
  • Tutoring use among students
  • Financial support for students (though the evidence is least consistent for this component)

Consequently, the preceding five intervention features seem like a reasonable, evidence-based place to start when developing community college policy, designing a new community college intervention, or enhancing an existing community college intervention.