Overcoming the Geography of Disadvantage: A Spillovers Framework to Identify Structural Means to Enhance Community College Students’ Educational Outcomes Despite Their Location
Manuel González Canché

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
Community colleges offer access to higher education to the largest share of underserved learners in the United States. Yet, because many community college students do not complete their two- and four-year degrees, these institutions struggle to realize their democratizing potential. This study posits that local access to resources is an important factor that may affect community colleges’ students’ success, but that even in cases where no such resources are present there may be other structural procedures taking place at some effective community colleges that are worth studying. A better understanding of these institutions is required to design strategies that may help overcome geography of disadvantage notions. Accordingly, using big data and ethnographic techniques, the overarching purpose of this study is to identify structural mechanisms that may bolster the democratizing potential of community colleges despite, or in spite of, a lack of local availability of resources.This larger purpose entails three subpurposes. The first is to provide a conceptual and analytic framework to detect public two-year institutions across the contiguous United States that have public and private nonprofit four-year institutions within commuting distance. The second subpurpose is to apply the proposed analytic framework to recognize institutions in which their students tend to have better academic outcomes (transfer rates and eventual four-year degree attainment). This subpurpose will also enable the quantitative measurement of the characteristics of students, institutions, and locality that are related to increases in students’ likelihood of academic success. The third subpurpose is to identify the contextual and procedural characteristics of the four community colleges with the strongest positive effects observed in the quantitative part of the study. Two of these colleges will have at least one four-year college within commuting distance, and the other two will not have these neighbors. Using these colleges as case studies will allow for a better understanding of practices and processes that take place in these institutions that are arguably different based on their location. For this last purpose, I will use ethnographic methods based on on-site participant observations and interviews with advisors, faculty, and students. This will enable a better understanding of institution-level practices and culture, as well as analysis of their situated contexts as identified in the proposed analytic model. As a result of this study, successful community colleges’ processes and strategies in overcoming concentrated disadvantage barriers will be identified. Plans of actions and future research will be recommended to replicate these successful practices.
About Manuel González Canché
Manuel S. González Canché holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education with cognates in Biostatistics and Economics. He joined the Higher Education division as an associate professor in 2017 and serves as affiliated faculty with the Human Development and Quantitative Methods division and the International Educational Development Program. His research follows two interconnected paths. The first concerns issues of access, persistence, and success, with an emphasis on institution effects–such as 2-year versus 4-year college and distance from home—on students’ outcomes. The second focuses on higher education finance, with emphases on spatial modeling and competition based on spatial proximity and spillover effects. Methodologically, González Canché employs econometric, quasi-experimental, spatial statistics, and visualization methods for big and geocoded data, including geographical information systems and network modeling. Given his low-income and first-generation in college background, he is particularly interested in studying factors and policies that may enhance low-income, minoritized, and/or underserved students’ opportunities for educational and occupational success. His long-term professional goal consists of the continued search of opportunities to conducting research capable of having successful and meaningful real-life gap-closing consequences.

Pin It on Pinterest