Personalized Pathways for Community College Transfer

Last registered on February 18, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Personalized Pathways for Community College Transfer
Initial registration date
February 17, 2021

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
February 18, 2021, 6:22 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


Primary Investigator

University of Virginia

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
The transfer pathway from community colleges to four-year institutions is critical to increasing bachelor’s degree completion rates and reducing graduation disparities by race and income. However, many students who intend to transfer from a community college to a four-year institution do not successfully follow through on these intentions: while 80 percent of community colleges students indicate they intend to transfer, fewer than 25 do so (Horn & Skomsvold, 2011; Shapiro et al., 2015). A major challenge to successful transfer is the difficulty of choosing community college courses that fulfill the complex set of requirements that students face on their path to a bachelor’s degree. To increase the transfer and degree attainment rates among community college students, we will test a pilot program to provide students with personalized course recommendations through an intrusive advising intervention. Specifically, we have developed a course recommendation algorithm that uses a student’s prior academic history to generate course recommendations that will (1) maximize the students academic future academic performance; (2) maximize the number of credits that will transfer to the student’s intended four-year institution; and (3) will minimize the time to bachelor’s degree, by giving preference to courses that satisfy requirements at both the community college and the student’s intended four-year institution. These recommendations will be delivered during one-on-one advising meetings that will take place shortly before the course registration period for the upcoming term; students will also receive supplemental outreach via text and email to emphasize the key points discussed during these meetings. We will implement and evaluate this pilot program through a randomized controlled trial, with randomization and data collection occurring at the student-level. We will launch this pilot program at one of Virginia’s community colleges during the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 terms.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Castleman, Ben. 2021. "Personalized Pathways for Community College Transfer." AEA RCT Registry. February 18.
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Experimental Details


We are testing an intervention through which we provide transfer-intending community college students with personalized course recommendations via an intrusive advising model. Specifically, we have developed a course recommendation algorithm designed to use a student’s prior academic performance to generate a personalized list of courses for them to take in the upcoming term(s) that will maximize their GPA and the number of credits transferable to a four-year institution, and minimize their time to both an associate and bachelor’s degree. Treated students will be contacted by the community college advising staff to schedule an advising appointment during which an advisor will communicate the course recommendations to the students and help the student plan for the upcoming course registration period.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Share of credits the student registered for that will satisfy their VCCS degree requirements
Share of enrolled credits that the student completed
Term GPA
Completion of their transfer-oriented associate degree at VCCS
Transfer to a four-year college or university
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Persistence at VCCS
Number of credits earned in the term(s) following the intervention
Share of credits earned in the term(s) following the intervention that satisfy their VCCS degree requirements
GPA in term(s) following the intervention
Quality of four-year college or university attended
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
We will measure the quality of four-year college or university using standard institution-level information provided by IPEDS, including admission rate, typical SAT/ACT scores of incoming freshmen, and graduation rates.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Our experimental sample will include students who meet our eligibility criteria: (1) enrolled at PVCC past the 15% mark of the term, which is the deadline for dropping without penalty; (2) pursuing a transfer-oriented associate degree program at PVCC; (3) will have accumulated at least 30 and fewer than 60 college-level credits from VCCS by the end of the Spring 2021 term, assuming they complete all credits in which they are currently enrolled; (4) have finished high school. Based on our calculations from past cohorts of PVCC students, we expect approximately 800 students to meet our eligibility requirements. Similarly, we anticipate another approximately 800 students to meet these eligibility requirements for the Fall 2021 launch, bringing the total experimental sample to n = 1,600 students across the two waves. We will assign 600 eligible students to the treated condition, and the balance to the control condition. If the number of eligible students far exceeds our estimates, then we may need to introduce additional eligibility criteria (e.g. removing students who will only need to complete 6 or fewer credits after Spring 2021 in order to graduate) to ensure that the advisor caseload is manageable. If the number of eligible students is far less than expected, then we may relax the 30 or more accumulated credits requirement slightly; however, some prior credit history is necessary in order to generate high-quality course recommendations. The randomization, intervention delivery, outcome data collection, and evaluation will all occur at the student-level. In order to increase statistical power, we will block randomization at the degree-level. Specifically, PVCC offers eight different transfer-oriented degree programs; we will perform randomization such that an equal share of students are assigned to the treated condition within each degree program. Students assigned to the control condition will receive “business as usual” advising resources at PVCC.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
We will code our randomization procedure in Stata; this code will be available upon request.
Randomization Unit
Student level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Approximately 1,600 students.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
600 treated students, 1,000 control students.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Assuming a two-sided test with a significance level of 0.05 and a power level of 0.80, and the R^2 = 0.20 of the for a regression of the outcome on randomization blocks and other baseline covariates, our MDES = 0.16 standard deviations. Translated into percentage terms (continuous outcomes) or percentage point terms (binary outcomes), this MDES translates to: GPA during intervention term: 6.5 percentage points for GPA > 2.5 (control mean = 79.3%) 7.6 percentage points for GPA > 3 (control mean = 65.8%) 7.9 percentage points for GPA > 3.5 (control mean = 57.1%) Credits earned in intervention term: 15.9% (control Mean: 5.4, Std Dev: 5.3) Completion of AA&S degree within 2 years: 7.6 percentage points (control mean = 33.7%) Transfer to a four-year within 2 years: 7.9 percentage points (control mean = 44.0%)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Personalized Course Guidance to Improve Community College Transfer Rates
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials