Closing the Evidence Gap in Higher Ed

Blog Post
May 2, 2019

This blog post highlights some of the key challenges in a new report, Closing the Evidence Gap: Doing More of What Works in Higher Education. For more, check out the full report.

Every year, billions of dollars are spent to improve access to higher education, help low- and middle-income students earn college degrees and certificates, and to support the institutions of higher education doing yeoman’s work in enrolling underserved populations. But for too many students, access remains elusive, and graduation day is out of reach. Low-income students are less likely than their higher-income peers to go to college, and less likely to go to colleges where they’ll earn a degree. And many colleges have little incentive or know-how to change the tide.

Even where there are promising practices that could help colleges graduate more low-income students in high-quality degrees, those practices often aren’t disseminated or adopted widely. My new report out today, Closing the Evidence Gap: Doing More of What Works in Higher Education, details how federal policy can build on the efforts of existing researchers and colleges' proven and innovative practices to help improve student success.

For instance, the CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) effort provided comprehensive financial, advising, and academic support--and doubled graduation rates within only a few years. A scholarship program that asked students to maintain a C average increased completion rates by double-digits. Providing coaching to students improved retention and even graduation rates.

In the report, I outline recommendations for the U.S. Department of Education to build on its efforts to incorporate evidence into higher education programs, including conducting more evaluations of its grantees’ practices and interventions to help other grantees use what works and discard what doesn’t, and producing better data to help policymakers and the public understand how taxpayer dollars are used in the programs.

I also outline recommendations for Congress, many of which are mirrored in the recently-reintroduced FINISH Act. For instance, I suggest Congress emphasize the best applications in awarding grants to college access organizations; support and fund evaluations of Department programs; require the use of evidence by federal grantees; improve the quality of federal higher education data; and launch a new, federally funded program to support innovation and build new evidence about promising higher education practices.

Efforts like these can provide the impetus for colleges and federally financed grantees across the country to reevaluate how best to help millions more students succeed in higher education. For more, check out the full report here.

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