Cover: Report on the Implementation, Costs, and Impacts of the Findhelp Platform in the North Carolina Community College System

Report on the Implementation, Costs, and Impacts of the Findhelp Platform in the North Carolina Community College System

Published Apr 5, 2023

by Christine Mulhern, Kelly Hyde, Sam Morales, Drew M. Anderson, Brian Phillips, Alice Huguet

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Research Questions

  1. What are the core components of the Findhelp platform? To what degree did colleges implement the core components with fidelity?
  2. What resources were involved in implementing Findhelp?
  3. How did college persistence and credit accumulation differ for students who had access to Findhelp compared with students who did not? And how did those outcomes differ for students who used Findhelp compared with students who did not?
  4. How did the impacts of Findhelp vary with the implementation of the platform, including the costs for supporting the program? Did the estimated impacts differ across colleges or by student characteristics?

Community colleges enroll a diverse set of students who often face challenges meeting their basic needs. This report describes the potential benefits and costs of one low-cost and relatively light-touch tool that colleges might use to increase students' access to basic needs assistance. The authors focus on the Findhelp platform, which is modeled as a "social care network" that connects students through an online platform to services that provide help. Findhelp is a website that lists local resources and services, and it is available to anyone affiliated with an institution partnering with the platform.

There is little research on Findhelp and similar light-touch resources, so this research documents how the resource was implemented at four community colleges in North Carolina, its implementation costs, and its impacts on student success following implementation. The authors use information from interviews with the campus staff who implemented the platform, administrative student-level data from the North Carolina Community College System on student persistence and credits attempted and completed, and data from Findhelp on how much individual students interacted with the platform.

Overall, Findhelp usage rates were low, though usage varied across the participating colleges. Campus staff were enthusiastic about the potential of the platform, and there is some evidence that student success increased when the platform was implemented. In addition, the platform was relatively low-cost to implement compared with other more-intensive approaches for supporting students' basic needs.

Key Findings

  • Overall, the four participating colleges were able to implement the core components of Findhelp (campus resources required, creation of a local version of Findhelp, marketing the platform, and providing supports for its ongoing development) as intended.
  • Relatively few students (3 percent) at colleges that implemented the Findhelp platform logged into or conducted searches in it, though usage increased over time.
  • Usage varied considerably across the participating colleges, though it is not clear why it varied.
  • The staff supporting Findhelp were enthusiastic about its potential and wanted to continue using it.
  • Measures of persistence, credits attempted, and credits completed were similar in the treatment and comparison colleges.
  • Students who use the platform are more likely to persist in college, enroll for more semesters, and attempt and earn slightly more credits, on average.
  • The estimated impacts of student use of the Findhelp platform were largest for students from underrepresented minority backgrounds and female students.
  • Implementation costs were higher than the costs to sustain the platform, but overall costs were low.
  • Costs varied considerably according to how much each campus decided to market the platform, how much work was done one-on-one with students, what was done to support students before adopting Findhelp, and whether the campus wanted to create a customized list of resources.
  • There is not a clear relationship between costs and impact estimates.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by the John M. Belk Endowment and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

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