Senior Associate, Postsecondary Education

Cullinan directs MDRC’s Multiple Measures Assessment Project, which, in collaboration with the Community College Research Center, is evaluating alternative placement systems that use multiple measures in addition to tests. These new placement methods are being developed to determine whether more students can be placed into courses that are appropriate for their levels. He is also the cost analyst for this project as well as for the Dana Center Math Pathways project, which aims to allow community college students who place into developmental mathematics courses to complete in one academic year a credit-bearing, transferable mathematics course relevant to their future major or career goals. He is data manager and impact analyst on the Text Ed demonstration project, which is evaluating the effectiveness of a low-cost enhancement to Educational Opportunity Center services: a systematic set of text messages that include timely, personalized information concerning college enrollment activities and deadlines, as well as resources for overcoming common barriers to enrollment. Before joining MDRC, Cullinan worked at the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. He has a master’s degree in economics from Virginia Commonwealth University.


  • MDRC Publications


      A Study of College Transition Text-Based Messaging

      May, 2023

      Many underserved groups face barriers to college enrollment. This study evaluated a program that supplemented federal supports for these groups through text messages about securing financial aid, completing college enrollment, and navigating other barriers. The study found that adding the messaging program did not increase rates of college enrollment.


      Lessons from the Field

      April, 2023

      MDRC is partnering with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to provide information about evidence-based programs backed by past research to the Student Success Program Inventory, an inventory of existing student success programs in Texas. This brief summarizes some of the information they will use in that effort.


      An Exploratory Study of Student Outcomes and Placement Practices

      June, 2022
      Jessica Brathwaite, Dan Cullinan, Elizabeth Kopko, Tiffany Morton, Julia Raufman, Dorota Biedzio Rizik

      Informed self-placement (ISP) helps college students determine whether they are ready for entry-level college courses or need remedial education first. This brief explores the potential of ISP to improve students’ access to college-level courses and gives colleges an opportunity to consider placement-method changes that may boost student success.

      January, 2022
      Dan Cullinan, Elizabeth Kopko

      Two experimental studies examined multiple measures assessment (MMA), in which colleges use alternative measures (like high school GPA) rather than just standardized test scores, to assign students to developmental or college-level courses. Students placed using MMA were more likely to complete college-level courses. This brief offers recommendations for other colleges.


      Three-Semester Findings from an Experimental Study of Multiple Measures Assessment and Placement

      December, 2021

      Some students are referred into developmental (or remedial) education inappropriately when placed using only standardized placement tests. When multiple measures assessment was used, students in Minnesota and Wisconsin were more likely to enroll and pass college-level math and English courses within three semesters. The additional cost of this alternative assessment averaged $33 per student.


      Three Years of the Detroit Promise Path Program for Community College Students

      March, 2021
      Alyssa Ratledge, Colleen Sommo, Dan Cullinan, Rebekah O'Donoghue, Marco Lepe, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija

      This program combines a tuition-free scholarship with additional forms of support, such as a campus coach and personalized communications, to keep students on track to graduate. A three-year evaluation shows that the program helped students stay enrolled in school and earn more credits, but had no impact on degrees earned.


      What Colleges Need to Know About Multiple Measures Assessments

      February, 2021

      Colleges often use standardized testing to determine whether incoming students need developmental courses. But those tests do not predict students’ college readiness accurately. This brief explains how the use of alternative multiple measures can improve placement decisions, increase college-level course pass rates, and boost progress toward graduation.


      Impact Findings From an Evaluation of a Multiple Measures Assessment Strategy

      October, 2020
      Elisabeth A. Barnett, Elizabeth Kopko, Dan Cullinan, Clive Belfield

      A random assignment evaluation at seven State University of New York campuses finds that using multiple measures assessments to determine placement in remedial education led to more students being placed in college-level courses, where they did better than their peers who were placed in remedial classes.

      Issue Focus

      Three Insights from Research

      June, 2020

      The COVID-19 pandemic means community colleges cannot administer in-person tests to determine whether students must take developmental (remedial) courses. But some colleges were already using multiple pieces of information for course placement, rather than a single test score. This brief offers three relevant insights from research on these placement systems.


      Three-Year Results from the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) Ohio Demonstration

      January, 2020

      This report presents findings through three years from a replication of the City University of New York Accelerated Study in Associate Programs model at three community colleges in Ohio. The Ohio programs nearly doubled degree receipt through three years and led to an increase in transfers to four-year colleges.


      Early Findings from an Experimental Study of Multiple Measures Assessment and Placement

      December, 2019
      Dan Cullinan, Elisabeth A. Barnett, Elizabeth Kopko, Andrea Lopez, Tiffany Morton

      This report examines colleges’ use of multiple measures to determine whether students take college-level or developmental education courses, a more accurate method than standardized placement exams. Using additional placement tests, high school transcripts, and student motivation evaluations places more students into credit-bearing courses, improving academic results and college completion rates.


      Final Report on Aid Like A Paycheck

      May, 2019

      This study, implemented at two community college systems in Texas and one in California, tested whether biweekly disbursements of financial aid rather than lump sum payments could help students budget more efficiently and improve their academic and financial outcomes. Overall, this approach did not have substantial impacts on student outcomes.


      Interim Findings from the Detroit Promise Path Evaluation

      April, 2019
      Alyssa Ratledge, Rebekah O'Donoghue, Dan Cullinan, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija

      The Detroit Promise allows the city’s high school graduates to attend local colleges tuition-free. To that scholarship the Detroit Promise Path adds campus coaches, monthly financial support, enhanced summer engagement, and messages informed by behavioral science. Interim findings about persistence in school, full-time enrollment, and credit accumulation are all positive.


      A Guide to Launching a Multiple Measures Assessment System

      July, 2018
      Dan Cullinan, Elisabeth A. Barnett, Alyssa Ratledge, Rashida Welbeck, Clive Belfield, Andrea Lopez

      To address underplacement, in which students who could succeed in college-level courses are directed into developmental education, community colleges have begun supplementing the typical placement test with measures like high school GPA and noncognitive assessments. This guide walks colleges through the process and pitfalls of undertaking this kind of reform.


      Interim Findings on Aid Like A Paycheck

      June, 2017
      Evan Weissman, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Amanda Baldiga

      This study examines whether an alternative approach to distributing financial aid — in biweekly payments instead of one or two lump sums — can improve outcomes for low-income community college students. After one semester, the policy reduced students’ debt and use of federal loans but showed little consistent evidence of academic effects.


      Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Incarcerated Parents’ Requests for Child Support Modifications

      October, 2016
      Asaph Glosser, Dan Cullinan, Emmi Obara

      A behavioral intervention provided incarcerated noncustodial parents in Washington with materials about their eligibility for a child support order modification and how to request one. It increased the number of parents requesting a modification by 32 percentage points and the number of parents receiving a modification by 16 percentage points.


      Applying Behavioral Insights to Increase Collections

      February, 2016
      Peter Baird, Dan Cullinan, Patrick Landers, Leigh Reardon

      Findings from tests in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, demonstrate that low-cost, low-effort behavioral interventions can improve child support payment outcomes. These tests are part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families.


      Using Behavioral Economics to Increase On-Time Child Care Subsidy Renewals

      November, 2015
      Alexander Mayer, Dan Cullinan, Elizabeth Calmeyer, Kelsey Patterson

      This study assessed three different behavioral strategies for providers and clients aimed at increasing the timely renewal of child care subsidies, in order to ensure consistent client services. The findings suggest that strategies designed for staff who work directly with clients may be a fruitful area for future work.


      Using Behavioral Economics to Increase Child Support Payments

      July, 2015
      Peter Baird, Leigh Reardon, Dan Cullinan, Drew McDermott, Patrick Landers

      A low-cost behavioral intervention produced a modest increase in the number of parents in Franklin County, Ohio, who made at least one child support payment over four months. This test is part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families.


      Using Behavioral Economics to Help Incarcerated Parents Apply for Child Support Order Modifications

      September, 2014
      Mary Farrell, Caitlin Anzelone, Dan Cullinan, Jessica Wille

      A low-cost behavioral intervention increased by 11 percentage points the proportion of incarcerated noncustodial parents in Texas who applied for modifications to reduce the amount of their child support orders. This test is part of the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, sponsored by the federal Administration for Children and Families.


      Final Report

      September, 2014
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Amanda Grossman, Dan Cullinan

      This report discusses a pilot project to prepare adult education students in New York City for the new more rigorous GED exam. Revised writing and math curricula were offered to thousands of students, but attendance was erratic. Shorter lesson sequences and support outside the classroom might allow more students to benefit.


      Lessons from the First Round of Achieving the Dream Community Colleges

      April, 2014
      Alexander Mayer, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Kelley Fong, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Davis Jenkins

      Launched in 2004, Achieving the Dream is designed to help community colleges collect and analyze student performance data and apply the results to help students succeed. This report offers lessons from the first 26 colleges to join the national initiative, which now includes more than 200 institutions.

      Working Paper

      Seven Years Later

      March, 2014

      This paper presents the long-term effects of a learning communities program. The program’s positive effect on credit accumulation was maintained for seven years, and there is some evidence that graduation rates increased. Economic outcomes are examined, and sobering reflections on detecting effects on economic outcomes in higher education interventions are presented.


      Six-Year Effects of a Freshman Learning Community Program at Kingsborough Community College

      July, 2012

      Students who participated in a one-semester learning community, in which small groups of student took three linked classes together and received other extra services, were more likely to have graduated six years later. The program also proved to be cost-effective.


      An Impact Study of a Student Success Course at Guilford Technical Community College

      April, 2012
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Dan Cullinan, Rashida Welbeck

      A random assignment study of a student success course for developmental students finds positive effects on students’ self-management, self-awareness, and engagement in college. The program had few overall effects on students’ academic achievement, although there were some positive impacts for the first group of students to enter the study.


      Impact Studies at Merced College and The Community College of Baltimore County

      February, 2012
      Evan Weissman, Dan Cullinan, Oscar Cerna, Stephanie Safran, Phoebe Richman

      Two colleges implemented semester-long learning communities linking developmental English with a range of other courses. At Merced, learning communities students earned more developmental English credits and passed more English courses than a control group. At CCBC, there were no meaningful impacts on students’ credit attempts or progress. Neither college’s program had an impact on persistence or on cumulative credits earned.


      Five Years of Achieving the Dream in Community Colleges

      February, 2011
      Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Thomas Brock, Genevieve Orr, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Monica Reid Kerrigan, Davis Jenkins, Susan Gooden, Kasey Martin

      This interim report examines the experiences of the first 26 colleges to join the ambitious Achieving the Dream initiative. Launched by Lumina Foundation for Education in 2004, Achieving the Dream helps community colleges collect and analyze student performance data in order to build a “culture of evidence,” enabling the colleges to use that knowledge to develop programs to increase students’ academic success.

  • Other Publications

  • Projects