Momentum Through Course-Completion Patterns Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM: Variations and Contributing Factors

Hsun Yu Chan, Xueli Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Grounded in the academic momentum framework, this study explores course-completion patterns across the first two semesters of college among 1668 first-time students beginning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs or courses at public 2-year colleges in a Midwestern state, as well as factors predicting the persistence or changes in these patterns. We use latent transition analysis as the main analytical strategy, based on a combination of student survey data, transcript records, and data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Our findings reveal three major course-completion patterns in the first semester of college (i.e., transfer, vocational, and exploring) and four patterns in the second semester (i.e., transfer, vocational, associate degree, and leaving). More than 60% of the study sample exhibits consistent course-completion patterns in the first year of college. Students persisting in the transfer and vocational patterns in both semesters are more likely to retain their interest in STEM fields in the second year. In addition, we uncover salient predictors for transitions in course-completion patterns between the two semesters. For example, students’ self-reported financial support for attending college is positively associated with switching into the vocational pattern, but perceived support from peers seems to prompt students from the vocational to the transfer pattern. As a whole, our findings pinpoint the importance of a holistic understanding of how the mass, velocity, and direction of academic momentum through course-completion patterns develop and shift over time, as well as how a range of learning, academic, and social factors help shape 2-year college students’ academic trajectory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)704-743
Number of pages40
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Sept 1
Externally publishedYes


  • 2-year college
  • Academic momentum
  • Community college
  • Course completion
  • Latent transition analysis
  • STEM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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