The Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment (EASE) Project


The Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment (EASE) Project is a new initiative to improve community college persistence and completion in Ohio. The project will apply insights from behavioral science to design targeted messaging and financial incentives that encourage students to enroll in courses during the summer term.

In the U.S., higher education institutions are largely designed around a schedule that promotes fall and spring enrollment but presents summer as an optional period for students. Yet, only 20 percent of students at public two-year colleges graduate within three years. Many students enroll part-time or inconsistently — frequently taking semesters off — which can increase the time it takes them to graduate.

One promising strategy to reduce students’ time to degree may be to encourage them to enroll continually, including during the summer semesters, which can benefit students in multiple ways. First, it allows students to accumulate credits during a time when most students opt out of taking coursework, helping to build momentum and meet their goal of completing college. Second, enrolling in summer may reduce the dropout rate by bridging the gap between the spring and fall semesters, a transition point when many students leave college. Third, summer enrollment could mitigate the loss of learning that occurs during the summer, improving performance.  Ultimately, earning credits in summer may make it more likely that students complete their degrees.

MDRC is launching The Encouraging Additional Summer Enrollment (EASE) Project with support from the Ascendium Education Group and in partnership with The Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC). The initiative will include up to 10 community colleges across Ohio by the spring of 2017.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

During the first phase of the project, four community colleges will collaborate with MDRC’s Center for Applied Behavioral Science (CABS) to conduct behavioral diagnosis and design, identify barriers to summer enrollment, and develop an intervention for the summer 2017 semester. These four colleges — Columbus State Community College, Marion Technical College, Stark State College, and Southern State College Community College — will launch interventions in the coming year.

During the second phase of the project, an additional six colleges in Ohio will join the project and launch interventions for the summer 2018 semester. MDRC will rigorously test the impact of the interventions via a randomized controlled trial evaluation. 

EASE seeks to determine (1) whether summer enrollment rates at community colleges can be improved through the use of targeted messaging that incorporates principles from behavioral science and tuition assistance to supplement the cost of summer tuition and fees and (2) the impact of summer enrollment on student academic outcomes including persistence, credit attainment, and completion.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

Four community colleges are currently participating in the first phase of the EASE project:

  • Columbus State Community College

  • Marion Technical College

  • Southern State Community College

  • Stark State College

The study uses a random assignment design to estimate the causal effects of the opportunity to receive the EASE interventions. Eligible students will be randomly assigned to one of three groups: Group one will receive behavioral messages regarding summer enrollment. Group two will receive behavioral messages and supplemental tuition assistance. Group three — the control group — will receive the colleges’ standard messages and any existing financial aid. The evaluation also includes an implementation study of the interventions. The study will draw on transcript and administrative data and interviews with faculty, staff, and students, among other types of data.