Saturday, June 23, 2018
The RP Group

Investigating Completion through the Lens of Student Course-Taking

Timeline: 2012-2013


California’s Community College system encompasses a broad-ranging vision for higher education. Yet, the conversation about what constitutes success often focuses on those outcomes that can be counted easily. Completion — defined as the attainment of degrees and certificates or transfer to a four-year institution — is increasingly becoming the yardstick for effectiveness.

But does completion capture the full impact of community colleges? Further, if community colleges desire to demonstrate their effect on students more broadly, what should they be measuring?

This LearningWorks project looks at the question of completion through the lens of course-taking behavior, based on a study by University of Michigan’s Peter Riley Bahr, conducted for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

Bahr identified several types of pathways that California Community College students tend to take, where these pathways are more likely to lead, and characteristics of students who were more likely to be in each group.

LearningWorks was founded by the Career Ladders Project for California Community Colleges, the RP Group, and the California Community Colleges Success Network (3CSN) to facilitate, disseminate and fund practitioner-informed recommendations for changes at the system and classroom levels, infusing these strategies with statewide and national insights.

RP Group Lead

Kathy Booth, Terrence Willett, MS




California Community College Chancellor's Office

Peter Bahr, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan

Guides and Tools

What's Completion Got to Do with It?, June 2012
Inquiry guide that applies Peter Riley Bahr’s cluster analysis on student attainment to the current conversation on improving completion outcomes; includes discussion questions can help relate the results to key concerns in community colleges at both the campus and policy levels.

Segmentation Model for Assessing Course-Taking Patterns: Research Methodology and Discussion Guide, June 2012
Simplified rule set for sorting students into the classifications identified by Peter Riley Bahr in his analysis of student course-taking behavior; includes sample discussion questions on how to use these results to build a deeper understanding of student course-taking behavior and its relationship to student success.

Plain Text Code for Segmentation Study, June 2012
Text that could easily be cut-and-pasted into statistical software to run the simplified rule set for sorting students into the classifications identified by Peter Riley Bahr in his analysis of student course-taking behavior.

Segmentation Model for Assessing Course-Taking Patterns--Updated Rule Sets, December 2012
Simplified rule set for sorting students into the classifications identified by Peter Riley Bahr in his analysis of student course-taking behavior, updated December 2012.

Presentations and Webinars

What’s Completion Got to Do With It? Unpacking the Value of Student Short-Term Course-Taking


The Use of Cluster Analysis in Typological Research on Community College Students, 2011
Article providing an introduction to the family of partitional cluster analytical methods, with specific attention to research on community college students; describes key decision points and common approaches in the use of cluster analysis.

The Bird’s Eye View of Community Colleges: A Behavioral Typology of First-Time Students Based on Cluster Analytic Classification, October 2009
Article that tests the predictive validity of the classification scheme, investigates the relationships between the primary classification scheme and several alternative schemes, and demonstrates the replicability of the classification scheme.

A Typology of Students’ Use of the Community College, 2011
Article describing a typology of first-time community college students based on students’ course-taking and enrollment behavior; demonstrates typology utility through an application that involves interpreting data concerning students’ participation in remedial mathematics.


News and Events

This project is complete. Visit "Related Projects" to learn about our other initiatives in this project's area(s) of impact.



  • Focus Populations: Nontraditional students, CTE students, Skills-builders
  • Status: Complete
  • Contact: Dr. Darla Cooper, Director of Research and Evaluation,