For millions of young people, weak academic preparation impedes their chances of succeeding in higher education. Millions of others face financial roadblocks in finding the money to go to college.
Other than the poorly educated or the financially strapped, no one is more familiar with these situations than the administrators of career schools, who offer curricula specifically targeting this demographic.
Yet, a new research center funded by the U.S. Department of Education with the intent of improving access to higher education and breaking down academic and financial barriers will not include career schools as a part of its research.
The department’s Institute of Education Sciences issued a five-year grant of nearly $10 million to develop the National Research and Development Center on Postsecondary Education. The center will study programs employed by two-year and four-year schools to help students make the transition to college and master the basic skills needed to earn a degree.
While the project is noteworthy for its emphasis on two-year schools as opposed to solely four-year, where the majority of research has been conducted in the past, studies will focus primarily on public schools that offer dual enrollment and college-prep programs, said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center (CCRC), which will house the center.
“(The center) has a community college emphasis, but that’s not all it is,” Bailey said. “It may be that issues with proprietary schools are something they want us to look at eventually. The higher education act will be reauthorized soon, and there are some controversial issues involved with proprietary schools, so they may want us to look at it, but that has not been determined yet.”
The center will evaluate the effectiveness of two programs over four years:
– Those that enroll high school students in college courses (dual-enrollment programs); and
– Those that provide remediation groups or learning communities for low-skill students.
Dr. Thomas Brock, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC)’s Director of Young Adults and Postsecondary Education, said the grant would allow researchers to focus on this critical area in which too little rigorous research now exists. MRDC is partnering with the CCRC, the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and professors from Harvard University and Princeton University to conduct research.
“There is a gap in what we know and don’t know about the policies and programs that postsecondary institutions are implementing to improve student access and success in higher education,” Brock said. “This grant will give the center the opportunity to do the research that will help us say with more certainty what works and what doesn’t.”
In addition, the center will evaluate financial aid policies and state incentives to promote low-income, low-skilled students.