Research Associate

Cullinan directs MDRC’s work randomly assigning community-college students to alternative placement systems using multiple measures. These new placement algorithms are being developed by the Community College Research Center in partnership with MDRC to test whether more students can be placed into appropriate-level courses. He is the data manager for Aid Like a Paycheck, a program that aims to help students manage their limited financial aid throughout the term by disbursing their aid refunds every other week — like a paycheck — rather than in one or two lump sums. He is a data manager and an impact analyst on the Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency project, which turns a behavioral research lens on programs that serve poor families in the United States, such as cash assistance, child care, child support, and child welfare. He is overseeing MDRC’s data management and acquisition for the Spencer-Institute of Education Sciences Methods Grants, exploring variation in program impacts across sites. Prior to 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


      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

      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.


      Lessons from the First Round of Achieving the Dream Community Colleges

      April, 2014

      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

      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