FYI, the Institute on Community Integration Staff Newsletter

March 2009

Making the Connection: ICI Aims to Keep Students in College

Postsecondary education offers career opportunities and higher salaries to most graduates, but college students’ persistence toward a degree has been an ongoing challenge. Studies show that only about one-third of high school graduates who enter college directly from high school earn a college degree, with dropout rates among first-year students in community colleges over 40 percent. Aiming to improve college graduation rates, on March 1, the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) and the University’s Department of Educational Psychology launched “Making the Connection: Engaging and Retaining Young Adults in Postsecondary Education,” a two-year research project funded by a $727,237 grant from the Institute for Education Sciences (IES).

Making the Connection will study the feasibility of adapting Check & Connect – a K-12 school engagement intervention developed at ICI – to community college settings with students ages 18-30. Check & Connect is one of 22 dropout prevention interventions rated by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse and the only program found to have strong evidence of positive effects for staying in school.

This postsecondary intervention will be developed with Minneapolis Community and Technical College in Minnesota and Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. The choice of setting is no accident: Community and technical colleges cater largely to non-traditional students who face particular challenges, including previous negative educational experiences, lack of preparation for postsecondary education, higher incidences of poverty, and greater family responsibilities. If Check & Connect can succeed in community and technical colleges, it may succeed throughout postsecondary education.

The project has five steps:

  1. Review Check & Connect’s application in secondary settings.

  2. Analyze the policy, administrative, and organizational processes at the two community and technical colleges that need to be considered when adapting Check & Connect to postsecondary settings.

  3. Analyze how the social, behavioral, and academic expectations for students in community and technical colleges differ from expectations of secondary education students.

  4. Integrate the findings of #2 and #3 into a modified Check & Connect model for postsecondary settings.

  5. Implement and evaluate the Check & Connect postsecondary intervention at the test sites and then revise.

“President Obama has called for every American to pursue some form of education beyond high school,” said Karen Stout, Project Director. “Finding ways to help non-traditional college students and others access and finish community college will bring us closer to that dream.”

Making the Connection’s Principal Investigator is David R. Johnson, Director of ICI, along with Sandy Christensen and Jean Ness as Co-Principal Investigators. FFI about the project, contact Karen at 612-624-5708 or