Structural Barriers to Academic Success: The Case of Complex Curricular Requirements in Community Colleges
Rachel Baker

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Irvine

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
Major requirements in college are complex. Research has found that students report being confused when trying to determine which classes they need to take to graduate. Psychologists and behavioral economists have long found that complex decisions lead to worse outcomes, both in terms of non-ideal choices and postponed decisions, and many administrators and policy makers believe that curricular complexity may be partially responsible for community colleges� low graduation rates. But these kinds of structural barriers have received very little research attention. In this study, I will examine the effect of the complexity of major requirements on student outcomes. I will do so by calculating three measures of complexity for dozens of majors in California Community Colleges and computing the relationship between these measures and student success and efficiency outcomes. To control for potential biases that could affect my results, I will use two analytic strategies: (1) leveraging the differences in complexity across departments in the same college and across colleges in the same department, and (2) taking advantage of the fact that major requirements, and their inherent complexity, change. Results from my study will provide direct guidance to schools on how to structure major requirements to maximize student success.
About Rachel Baker
Rachel Baker is an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of California, Irvine?s School of Education. Her work focuses on how institutional, state, and federal policies affect access to, and success in, higher education for traditionally underserved groups. Using experimental, quasi-experimental, and rich descriptive techniques, she has studied: how students conceptualize the process of choosing a major, the effects of statewide transfer policies on community college student success, the effects of socio-economic affirmative action on student sorting, patterns of segregation and sorting in higher education, and the effects of in-class interventions on student success in online courses. Dr. Baker received her Ph.D. in Education Policy from Stanford Graduate School of Education and her BA in Psychology from Dartmouth College.

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