Community College to Career: Leveraging Technology to Enhance Student Advising and Support


The Community College to Career project seeks to increase the number of low-income individuals who earn a credential from a community college (CC) and find employment that allows them to earn a middle-class wage.

Prior research has identified a number of factors that prevent students from completing CC credentials, ranging from financial difficulties to lack of academic preparation. However, recent research has identified a somewhat unexpected cause of student difficulty – a lack of information and structure coupled with an overabundance of choice (Bahr 2013, Karp 2011, Rosenbaum et al. 2006). Discussing this “structure hypothesis,” one author likened finding a path toward completion to navigating a river on a dark night (Scott-Clayton 2011).

Community colleges recognize the importance of providing student support in various areas from course selection to financial aid. But such efforts are limited by the cost and accessibility of advisors. Estimates suggest one advisor for every 800 to 1200 students (RDP, 2009, p. 121; Grubb, 2006). Moreover, students often underutilize advisors because of schedule conflicts (e.g., many working students are only on campus in the evenings, after normal business hours) or other barriers.

Research Objectives / Goals / Questions

With seed funding from the University of Michigan Global Challenges for a Third Century initiative and in collaboration with MDRC, we will develop an advising tool that leverages web- and\or mobile-technology to provide students with critical information and support. This project will engage University of Michigan students and faculty from education, economics, public policy, and computer science to work with Detroit-area community colleges in developing the tool.

We anticipate a one-year development process that, among other things, will involve (a) interviews with students, advisors, and administrators at our partner CCs to assess shortcomings of their existing systems (human and technology); (b) a study of existing web-based systems, including discussions with the developers of particularly promising products; (c) work by University of Michigan students and faculty to produce a fully interactive and intelligent advising tool; and (d) cleaning and digitization of existing CC records.

How is the Study Funded?

This study is funded by the University of Michigan Global Challenges for a Third Century initiative.


The tool will be used by CCs and CC students. We believe that the tool described above has the potential to not only increase CC student completion rates, but to also help students select a program that is well-matched to their interests and is valued by the labor market.

Our goal is to create a cost-effective application that could be used not only by other CCs in the U.S., but also by comparable educational institutions in other countries.

Research Team

Brian Jacob
Peter Bahr