Understanding Academic Momentum and Enrollment Outcomes for International Students at an Urban Community College System



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



International students are increasingly choosing community colleges as a pathway to pursue their postsecondary education and eventually transfer to a four-year institution (Anayah & Kuk, 2015; Hagedorn & Zhang, 2013; Zhang, Sun & Hagedorn, 2013). Suprisingly, there is little research about international students’ background characteristics, educational pathways, and enrollment outcomes. Utilizing Adelman’s (1999; 2006) academic momentum framework and longitudinal transcript data, this study examined the academic momentum and enrollment outcomes of international students enrolled at a large urban public community college system in Texas. Three research questions guided this study: 1) What are the background characteristics and programs of study of international students attending a large, urban community college system in Texas; how do these compare to those of domestic students? 2) What factors increase the likelihood of program completion and/or four-year transfer among international students, compared to domestic students? 3) After matching students with similar characteristics, to what extent, if any, are there differences in academic momentum, academic performance and enrollment outcomes between international and domestic students? The sample included a cohort of first time in college (FTIC) full-time international (n=324) and domestic (n=2,757) students who enrolled at UCC in Fall 2007. The results for the first research question indicated significant proportional differences in the chosen programs of study across the two groups. First year academic momentum had significant impact on the final enrollment outcomes for both international and domestic students. In their first academic year, international students, on average, earned a higher number of total credits and had higher cumulative GPA than domestic students. Results from the second research question indicated that the total number of credits earned in the first academic year increased the likelihood of program completion (i.e. earning an associate degree or certificate at UCC and/or four-year transfer) for international students. The last research question utilized propensity score matching (PSM) techniques with 1:1 nearest neighbor matching estimator to match international and domestic students on observed covariates. Results indicated that after reducing bias through PSM, international students were more likely to outperform domestic students on key measures of academic momentum. Given the national initiatives to increase community college completion rates (American Association of Community Colleges [AACC], 2016) and new state performance-based funding policies that reward the colleges based on student enrollment outcomes (McKinney & Hagedorn, 2015), understanding success rates among international students is important. Recommendations based on the study findings suggested that a guided pathway approach holds the potential to help both international and domestic students succeed in their academic endeavors (Community College Research Center, 2015). A well-developed program plan that guides course selection, coupled with effective academic advising can prevent students from taking courses that do not count towards their degree (Zhang, 2016).



International students, Community colleges, Enrollment outcomes