Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Research in Higher Education (2016) 57:72–98. doi 10.1007/s11162-015-9379-6


Copyright © 2015 Springer Science+Business Media. Used by permission.


The definition and description of student success programs in the literature (e.g., orientation, first-year seminars, learning communities, etc.) suggest underlying programmatic similarities. Yet researchers to date typically depend on ambiguous labels to delimit studies, resulting in loosely related but separate research lines and few generalizable findings. To demonstrate whether or how certain programs are effective there is need for more coherent conceptualizations to identify and describe programs. This is particularly problematic for community colleges where success programs are uniquely tailored relative to other sectors. The study’s purpose is to derive an empirical typology of community college student success programs based on their curricular and programmatic features. Data come from 1047 success programs at 336 U.S.-based respondents to the Community College Institutional Survey. Because programs might be characterized by their focus in different curricular areas and combinations of foci, we used factor mixture modeling, a hybrid of factor analysis and latent class analysis, which provides a model-based classification method that simultaneously accounts for dimensional and categorical data structures. Descriptive findings revealed extensive commonalities among nominal program types. Inferential analysis revealed five factors (types) of program elements, combined in unique ways among four latent program types: success skills programs, comprehensive programs, collaborative academic programs, and minimalist programs. We illustrate how the typology deconstructs nominal categories, may help unify different bodies of research, and affords a common framework and language for researchers and practitioners to identify and conceptualize programs based on what they do rather than by their names.