Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership

Committee Director

Mitchell Williams

Committee Member

Shana Pribesh

Committee Member

Dennis Gregory


Student attrition has been a significant challenge facing higher education for decades and is particularly pronounced within community colleges. Specifically, first-time postsecondary students only experienced a 59.3 percent retention rate between Fall 2013 and Fall 2014; at two-year colleges, less than half (46.9 percent) of students were retained during the same period (National Student Clearinghouse, 2015a). As institutional leaders attempt to increase student retention rates, they often invest in early alert systems, which promise to be a key part of a student success solution.

The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) implemented an early alert system in 2013. The purpose of this quantitative study was to examine the relationship between the use of the early alert system and persistence for students taking developmental education courses and students taking college-level courses in the VCCS. All data were existing data provided by the VCCS Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness. A quasi-experimental, non-randomized research design with matched-control groups was used evaluate impact on student persistence. Data analysis was conducted using multiple binary logistic regressions.

Results indicate that the early alert system, across all flag types, has a substantial and positive impact on developmental mathematics students. Specifically, for every Academic or Attendance flag raised (up to three flags), developmental mathematics students are nearly 20 times more likely to persist than those that were not flagged in the early alert system; those that received In Danger of Failing flags were more than 37 times more likely to persist. Students enrolled in developmental English courses, however, experienced a positive, but much more modest impact. For every Academic flag raised (up to three), they were 1.5 times more likely to persist than developmental English students who did not receive a flag. The impact of Attendance and In Danger of Failing flags were not statistically significant. Lastly, students enrolled in college-level courses experienced a very mild impact, in some instances positive and others negative.

These findings suggest that college leaders and practitioners should focus early alert resources on developmental mathematics students and continue exploration of implementation practices and alternative retention strategies for students enrolled in developmental English and college-level courses. In addition, results indicate the value of an early alert system in a comprehensive retention plan.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).