Promoting Partnerships for Student Success: Lessons from the SSPIRE Initiative

California’s 110 community colleges are an essential part of the state’s higher education and workforce development structure, serving over 2.6 million students annually. But a growing number of students face major obstacles to success, including inadequate preparation for college-level courses, and many end up dropping out. New scholarship suggests that student support services, such as academic and personal advising, counseling, tutoring, and financial aid, are critically important for promoting better academic outcomes for students. The challenge is to integrate these support services with academic instruction. Unfortunately, the very way most community colleges are organized — with student services housed in one division and academic functions in another, each functioning in parallel but with little coordination — creates obstacles to successful integration. These obstacles are often exacerbated by competition between the divisions for limited budget resources.

To help overcome this divide, the Student Support Partnership Integrating Resources and Education (SSPIRE) initiative was funded by the James Irvine Foundation and coordinated by MDRC. SSPIRE aimed to increase the success of young, low-income, and academically underprepared California community college students by helping community colleges strengthen their support services and better integrate these services with academic instruction. Nine California community colleges were selected to participate in SSPIRE, and each received as much as $250,000 in total from 2006 through early 2009.

This report describes how the SSPIRE colleges implemented four basic approaches to integrating student services with instruction: learning communities, a “drop-in” study center, a summer math program, and case management programs.The report also presents some of the colleges’ own data, which suggest that SSPIRE services may have led to modest improvements in students’ course pass rates and persistence in college. Finally, this report offers cross-cutting lessons drawn from MDRC’s research on the initiative. These lessons present practitioners and policymakers across the state and nation with examples from well-implemented programs that integrated student services with academic instruction.

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MDRC- SSPIRE Evaluation.pdf868.63 KB

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