Supporting Adult Learners Through the SUCCESS Program

Exploring the Experiences of Students Ages 25 and Older

In 2019, MDRC launched the Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS) project to improve college completion rates for traditionally underserved students, such as students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, at community and broad-access colleges (those that have open or minimally selective admissions policies). The SUCCESS program integrates multiple evidence-based components proven in previous studies to help students stay enrolled and graduate, including proactive and holistic coaching (coaching that supports academic and personal issues), full-time enrollment, financial incentives, and data-driven program management.

MDRC is evaluating the SUCCESS model using a randomized controlled trial at 11 institutions of higher education in five states across the country. A preliminary look at the first cohort’s experience, which took place in fall 2020 at the peak of the pandemic, showed that as of fall 2022 the program had not resulted in statistically significant impacts on students’ academic outcomes. Qualitative findings from interviews with students found that they appreciated connecting with SUCCESS coaches, who provide support for both personal and academic needs; they valued the program’s flexibility; and they desired community even in the virtual college environment.

However, relatively little is known about how to best serve adult learners―that is, the segment of students enrolled in the program who are 25 years of age or older―and improve their graduation rates. This brief highlights the experiences of adult learners in the SUCCESS program at four institutions―Essex County College in New Jersey; Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo and Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, both in Indiana; and Stark State College in Ohio. It explores how SUCCESS supports adult learners, and how it, and other programs, can do more for this population. Namely, this research reveals that (1) adult learners found the SUCCESS coaching component particularly valuable in terms of keeping them accountable and providing resources; (2) the full-time enrollment requirement posed a challenge for balancing academic and personal responsibilities; (3) although students appreciated the financial incentive, many still had unmet financial needs; and (4) beyond the SUCCESS components, older students reported that they could benefit from additional flexibility, community-building opportunities, and support with technology. These findings offer opportunities to consider how programmatic and institutional structures may promote student success or present additional barriers to graduation for this student population.

Dorimé-Williams, Marjorie and Vivianna Plancarte. 2022. “Supporting Adult Learners Through the SUCCESS Program.” New York: MDRC.