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The SSRC Library allows visitors to access materials related to self-sufficiency programs, practice and research. Visitors can view common search terms, conduct a keyword search or create a custom search using any combination of the filters at the left side of this page. To conduct a keyword search, type a term or combination of terms into the search box below, select whether you want to search the exact phrase or the words in any order, and click on the blue button to the right of the search box to view relevant results.

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  • Individual Author: Scrivener, Susan; Coghlan, Erin
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2011

    In today’s economy, having a postsecondary credential means better jobs and wages. Community colleges, with their open access policies and low tuition, are an important pathway into postsecondary education for nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates. Yet only one-third of all students who enter these institutions with the intent to earn a degree or certificate actually meet this goal within six years. The reasons for this are many, including that community college students are typically underprepared for college-level work, face competing priorities outside of school, and lack adequate financial resources. Recent cuts to higher education spending along with insufficient financial aid and advising at colleges only add to the problem. Ultimately, these factors contribute to unacceptably low persistence and completion rates.

    In response to these issues, MDRC launched the Opening Doors Demonstration in 2003 — the first large-scale random assignment study in a community college setting. The demonstration pursued promising strategies that emerged from focus groups with low-income...

    In today’s economy, having a postsecondary credential means better jobs and wages. Community colleges, with their open access policies and low tuition, are an important pathway into postsecondary education for nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates. Yet only one-third of all students who enter these institutions with the intent to earn a degree or certificate actually meet this goal within six years. The reasons for this are many, including that community college students are typically underprepared for college-level work, face competing priorities outside of school, and lack adequate financial resources. Recent cuts to higher education spending along with insufficient financial aid and advising at colleges only add to the problem. Ultimately, these factors contribute to unacceptably low persistence and completion rates.

    In response to these issues, MDRC launched the Opening Doors Demonstration in 2003 — the first large-scale random assignment study in a community college setting. The demonstration pursued promising strategies that emerged from focus groups with low-income students, discussions with college administrators, and an extensive literature review. Partnering with six community colleges across the country, MDRC helped develop and evaluated four distinct programs based on the following approaches: financial incentives, reforms in instructional practices, and enhancements in student services. Colleges were encouraged to focus on one strategy but to think creatively about combining elements of the other strategies to design programs that would help students perform better academically and persist toward degree completion.

    Opening Doors provides some of the first rigorous evidence that a range of interventions can, indeed, improve educational outcomes for community college students. The findings spurred some of the colleges to scale up their programs and led to additional large-scale demonstrations to test some of the most promising strategies. More work must be done, however, both to determine whether the early effects can last and to test even bolder reforms. This 12-page policy brief describes the different strategies tested, discusses what MDRC has learned from Opening Doors, and offers some suggestions to policymakers and practitioners for moving forward. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Kauff, Jacqueline
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2008

    This report represents the first step in the process of identifying initiatives intended to assist TANF recipients living with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment that may be worthy of further study. The outcomes and impacts of such initiatives are of substantial interest to program administrators and policymakers for several reasons. First and foremost is the concern over the well-being of these recipients and their families. Second, these initiatives often require considerable staff effort and intensive services and, therefore, can be costly to implement. Third, states and localities are under growing pressure to meet increased federally mandated work participation rates and recipients living with disabilities are one of many groups that program administrators and policymakers may consider targeting to increase those rates. To assist program administrators and policymakers in deciding how they should spend limited resources, it is critical to know whether the initiatives are, indeed, producing their desired effects. The time may be ripe for rigorously testing the...

    This report represents the first step in the process of identifying initiatives intended to assist TANF recipients living with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment that may be worthy of further study. The outcomes and impacts of such initiatives are of substantial interest to program administrators and policymakers for several reasons. First and foremost is the concern over the well-being of these recipients and their families. Second, these initiatives often require considerable staff effort and intensive services and, therefore, can be costly to implement. Third, states and localities are under growing pressure to meet increased federally mandated work participation rates and recipients living with disabilities are one of many groups that program administrators and policymakers may consider targeting to increase those rates. To assist program administrators and policymakers in deciding how they should spend limited resources, it is critical to know whether the initiatives are, indeed, producing their desired effects. The time may be ripe for rigorously testing the impact of employment initiatives for low-income families living with disabilities and this report presents some potential options for doing so. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Patel, Reshma; Richburg-Hayes, Lashawn; de la Campa, Elijah; Rudd, Timothy
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2013

    Performance-based scholarships aim to help reduce the financial burdens on low-income college students while providing incentives for good academic progress. Students are generally paid at multiple points during the semester if they earn a certain number of credits with a “C” average or better. MDRC is currently evaluating performance-based scholarship programs in six states.

    The findings presented in this brief (and supplemental tables) are based on one year of follow-up for all sites in the Performance-Based Scholarship (PBS) Demonstration, two years of follow-up for the sites that launched their programs in 2008 or 2009 (California, New Mexico, New York, and Ohio), and three years of follow-up for the first of the sites to complete study recruitment (Ohio).

    The PBS Demonstration has shown that this new form of financial aid is feasible to implement.  Interim results also suggest that these programs do improve students’ performance and increase the number of credits they earn, and in some states where data are available, they also appear to reduce student debt. In...

    Performance-based scholarships aim to help reduce the financial burdens on low-income college students while providing incentives for good academic progress. Students are generally paid at multiple points during the semester if they earn a certain number of credits with a “C” average or better. MDRC is currently evaluating performance-based scholarship programs in six states.

    The findings presented in this brief (and supplemental tables) are based on one year of follow-up for all sites in the Performance-Based Scholarship (PBS) Demonstration, two years of follow-up for the sites that launched their programs in 2008 or 2009 (California, New Mexico, New York, and Ohio), and three years of follow-up for the first of the sites to complete study recruitment (Ohio).

    The PBS Demonstration has shown that this new form of financial aid is feasible to implement.  Interim results also suggest that these programs do improve students’ performance and increase the number of credits they earn, and in some states where data are available, they also appear to reduce student debt. In Ohio, the one location for which data are available so far, the program also increased the proportion of students earning a degree. The programs work in a wide range of institutions and for a wide variety of students, including those normally at risk of performing poorly. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Richburg-Hayes, Lashawn; Brock, Thomas; LeBlanc, Allen J.; Paxson, Christina; Rouse, Cecilia Elena; Barrow, Lisa
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2009

    An investment in postsecondary education has been repeatedly shown to pay high monetary and nonmonetary dividends to students and society at large. Despite such benefits, research shows that close to half of all students who matriculate at a community college drop out before graduating and do not complete a degree at any other college or university within a six-year time frame. The reasons for this are many, ranging from weak academic preparation to difficulties balancing work, family, and school obligations.

    To study the effect of supplemental financial aid with an incentive component to encourage academic success and persistence, two New Orleans-area colleges operated a performance-based scholarship program with counseling in 2004-2005. The program was targeted to low-income parents as part of MDRC’s multisite Opening Doors demonstration. With funding from the Louisiana Department of Social Services and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the colleges offered students $1,000 for each of two semesters ($2,000 total) — distributed in three separate payments each semester...

    An investment in postsecondary education has been repeatedly shown to pay high monetary and nonmonetary dividends to students and society at large. Despite such benefits, research shows that close to half of all students who matriculate at a community college drop out before graduating and do not complete a degree at any other college or university within a six-year time frame. The reasons for this are many, ranging from weak academic preparation to difficulties balancing work, family, and school obligations.

    To study the effect of supplemental financial aid with an incentive component to encourage academic success and persistence, two New Orleans-area colleges operated a performance-based scholarship program with counseling in 2004-2005. The program was targeted to low-income parents as part of MDRC’s multisite Opening Doors demonstration. With funding from the Louisiana Department of Social Services and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the colleges offered students $1,000 for each of two semesters ($2,000 total) — distributed in three separate payments each semester — if they met two conditions: They had to enroll in college at least half time and they had to maintain an average grade of “C” or better. Students did not have to be welfare recipients, and the scholarships were paid in addition to federal Pell Grants. Program counselors monitored whether students met benchmarks, and physically handed the students their checks at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester.

    Using a random assignment design — the “gold standard” methodology in program evaluation — MDRC assigned 1,019 parents who were enrolled or planning to enroll in a community college to either a control group that received their college’s standard financial aid package and student services or to a program group that received the same standard aid package and student services in addition to being eligible for the Opening Doors performance-based scholarship. Analyses in this report show that:

    • The Opening Doors program encouraged more students to register for college. Students who received the scholarship were not only more likely (by 5.3 percentage points) to register, they were more likely (by 6.4 percentage points) to register full time, although only half-time enrollment was required to maintain the scholarship.
    • The program increased persistence. Longer-term analyses for the first groups of students who entered the Opening Doors study show that program group students were more likely, by 6.5 percentage points, to be registered through four semesters after random assignment.
    • The program increased the number of credits students earned. Follow-up data on the first groups of students to enter the Opening Doors study show positive effects on credit accumulation and grades through the fourth semester after random assignment.
    • The program had positive impacts on a range of social and psychological outcomes. Students in the Opening Doors program reported greater engagement in working toward their personal goals and higher levels of perceived social support.

    Tragically, Hurricane Katrina, a category five hurricane, hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, interrupting the follow-up period of the study. However, MDRC has made it a priority to replicate the program (and variations of it) in order to build more evidence on the potential of performance-based scholarships to help at-risk students through its recently launched Performance-Based Scholarship demonstration. (author abstract)

  • Individual Author: Brock, Thomas; LeBlanc, Allen J.; MacGregor, Casey
    Reference Type: Report
    Year: 2005

    Accessible and affordable, community colleges are gateways to postsecondary education, offering students new ways to achieve personal and economic goals. However, many students who begin courses at community colleges end them prematurely. In an effort to confront this problem, the Opening Doors Demonstration is testing the effects of community college programs that are designed to increase student persistence and achievement. The programs include various combinations of curricular reform, enhanced student services, and increased financial aid.

    This report describes the background, objectives, and design of MDRC’s evaluation of Opening Doors. Six community colleges are participating in the project: Kingsborough Community College (New York), Lorain County Community College and Owens Community College (Ohio), Delgado Community College and Louisiana Technical College-West Jefferson (Louisiana), and Chaffey College (California). These are mostly large, well-established community colleges that offer a range of associate’s degree programs and technical or vocational programs. The...

    Accessible and affordable, community colleges are gateways to postsecondary education, offering students new ways to achieve personal and economic goals. However, many students who begin courses at community colleges end them prematurely. In an effort to confront this problem, the Opening Doors Demonstration is testing the effects of community college programs that are designed to increase student persistence and achievement. The programs include various combinations of curricular reform, enhanced student services, and increased financial aid.

    This report describes the background, objectives, and design of MDRC’s evaluation of Opening Doors. Six community colleges are participating in the project: Kingsborough Community College (New York), Lorain County Community College and Owens Community College (Ohio), Delgado Community College and Louisiana Technical College-West Jefferson (Louisiana), and Chaffey College (California). These are mostly large, well-established community colleges that offer a range of associate’s degree programs and technical or vocational programs. The six colleges make up four Opening Doors study sites, each implementing a unique intervention:

    • Kingsborough: In small learning communities, groups of incoming freshmen take classes together and receive vouchers to cover the costs of their books.
    • The Ohio colleges: New and continuing students who have completed no more than 12 credits receive enhanced counseling/guidance and a small scholarship.
    • The Louisiana colleges: Low-income students who have children under age 18 receive a scholarship that is tied to academic performance; ongoing counseling provides an opportunity to discuss goals and progress and to arrange for tutoring or other help.
    • Chaffey: Probationary students take a College Success course and receive individualized assistance in reading, writing, or math.

    The Opening Doors evaluation is the first random assignment study of programmatic interventions in community colleges — making it the most scientifically rigorous test of whether these enhanced programs can make a difference. In addition to examining short-term impacts on course completion, grades, and certificates or degrees from community college, the evaluation will determine whether Opening Doors participants experience longer-term improvements in rates of transfer to four-year colleges and universities and in employment, earnings, personal and social well-being, health, and civic participation. Finally, the study will provide an in-depth investigation into the implementation and cost of Opening Doors programs and into the perceptions and experiences of community college students and faculty in the study sites. A series of publications is planned between 2005 and 2009 to inform education policy and practice. (author abstract)

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