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Making Higher Education More Accessible and Achievable

NORC helps education institutions and consumers make more informed decisions

Earning a college degree is strongly associated with higher lifetime earnings and greater career flexibility and longevity. However, the road to achieving a degree can be challenging even for some of the most motivated students. NORC’s researchers have been leveraging our more than 50 years of experience delivering reliable data and rigorous analysis in the education field to help college and university systems, individual schools, and related organizations design and evaluate programs that improve student retention and timely persistence toward a post-secondary degree.

Launched in 2007, the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) provides students with a range of financial, academic, and personal support, including personalized advising, career counseling, tutoring, waivers for tuition and mandatory fees, and MTA MetroCards, as well as additional financial assistance to defray the cost of textbooks—all with the goal of helping students earn their associate’s degree within three years. As part of their continuing efforts to evaluate and refine the ASAP program, CUNY partnered with NORC to survey former CUNY community college students, including those who were not enrolled in ASAP, to explore students’ career and educational outcomes and how well students felt CUNY prepared them for their next steps.

The survey sample included just over 12,000 former CUNY community college students, about half of whom were enrolled in CUNY ASAP and half who were not.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to college access is the college application process itself. CollegePoint Virtual Advising provides students from low- and moderate-income families with one-on-one support from current college enrollees and recent graduates from some of the nation’s top-ranked schools. Advisors use phone, text, Skype, and other digital platforms to help prospective students with everything from creating lists of colleges to consider to searching for scholarships to preparing for dorm life. NORC has partnered with America Achieves, an organization that supports innovative programs in education access, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, one of CollegePoint’s sponsors, to conduct a series of surveys used to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. The surveys began in the spring of 2016, when NORC gathered data from more than 8,000 CollegePoint participants to measure their understanding of the financial aid process and their initial responses to the program. Subsequent surveys in 2016 and 2017 followed up with the students at key moments during their transition from high school to college. The next survey with a new cohort of high school seniors will begin in 2018 and address this same topic. NORC is currently evaluating the Helios Foundation’s Knowing & Going Initiative, which provides high-school juniors and seniors in Arizona with guidance and financial assistance throughout the college application process. Services include ACT test prep, college planning, and assistance with filling out applications and financial aid forms. As part of the evaluation, NORC will link survey data to administrative data and ACT scores to better understand the predictors of successful college matriculation.

As fraught as the college admission process can be for prospective students and families, it’s also a challenging endeavor for enrollment management and admission officers. The College Board’s Admitted Class Evaluation Service™ (ACES™) is a free online service that helps institutions make the most informed admission and placement decisions by answering questions such as:

  • What is the best combination of predictors of success at my institution and how can I apply this information to our applicant data?
  • How can I quickly and easily identify students who may be at risk for not returning or completing their degrees at my institution?

NORC’s Education and Child Development department, Statistics and Methodology department, Center for Excellence in Survey Research, and Data Enclave team are working together to fully redesign and simplify the ACES user experience. The redesign will include new report options, dynamic charts, dashboards and infographics, and the ability to compare study results year-over-year.

For many, the biggest barriers to college access are often financial. NORC was recently named the evaluation partner for Oakland Promise, a cradle-to-career initiative aimed at tripling the number of college graduates from Oakland, California within the next decade. To meet that goal, Oakland Promise sponsors several programs, including one for newborns called Brilliant Baby that combines financial coaching with a $500 contribution to a college savings account for the parents and guardians of newborns, and a scholarship program that combines financial support with mentoring and other persistence services for low-income families.