• MDRC Publications


      A Study of a Transition Program Serving Students with Low Math Skills at a Community College

      March, 2020
      Angela Boatman, Oscar Cerna, Kayla Reiman, John Diamond, Mary Visher, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow

      A four-week course to prepare students for developmental-level math did not attract many students who were referred to it. While some participants gained needed skills, most did not complete the course or move on to developmental math, and communication about the course among staff, faculty, advisors, and students was inconsistent.


      Current Policy, Prominent Programs, and Evidence

      September, 2018
      Rachel Rosen, Mary Visher, Katie Beal

      This paper reviews the available evidence supporting various types of career and technical education programs, touching on both the amount of evidence available in each area and its level of rigor.

      Working Paper

      A Literature Review

      October, 2017
      Barbara Condliffe, Janet Quint, Mary Visher, Michael Bangser, Sonia Drohojowska, Larissa Saco, Elizabeth Nelson

      Examining the scholarly literature published since a seminal review in 2000, this working paper discusses the principles that underlie project-based learning, how it has been used in K-12 settings, the challenges teachers have confronted in implementing it, and what is known about its effectiveness in improving students’ learning outcomes.


      New Approaches to Serving the Lowest-Skilled Students at Community Colleges in Texas and Beyond

      October, 2017

      Faced with many applicants with very low math skills, community colleges are responding with a variety of reforms, including restricting developmental courses to students with high-school-level skills. This brief provides context for the policy changes and describes the alternatives two colleges offer to those who don’t make the cut.


      A Randomized Controlled Trial

      November, 2016
      Mary Visher, Alexander Mayer, Michael Johns, Timothy Rudd, Andrew Levine, Mary Rauner

      A randomized controlled trial conducted by REL West and MDRC finds that counseling and text-messaging “nudges” boosted the proportion of community college students who completed academic plans by 20 percentage points.


      Examples, Evidence, and Prospects

      April, 2015
      Mary Visher, David Stern

      High school reform is increasingly focused on the role of career-technical education (CTE) in preparing all students for success in both college and career. Instead of stand-alone vocational courses, programs that merge CTE, rigorous academics, and career exploration are gaining momentum, but schools need resources and training to implement them.


      A Case Study of Two Community College Programs Designed to Accelerate Students Through Developmental Math

      May, 2013
      Kelley Fong, Mary Visher

      “Acceleration” strategies seek to help developmental students progress to college-level math quicker. This report examines two models: one at Broward College compresses a traditional 16-week course into eight weeks and another at Tarrant County College divides a course into modules, allowing students to skip content they’ve already mastered.


      How Career Academies Can Build College and Career Exploration Programs

      January, 2013
      Mary Visher, Jacklyn Willard, Stephanie Safran

      MDRC and Bloom Associates developed and piloted a program to help Career Academies, a popular high school reform, build college and career exploration programs for their students. This report presents lessons learned from its implementation in 18 academies in California, Florida, and Georgia.


      An Impact Study of Career-Focused Learning Communities at Kingsborough Community College

      July, 2011
      Mary Visher, Jedediah Teres

      Students took two courses in their major and one on careers associated with their major. Active, collaborative, and interdisciplinary learning was emphasized. No meaningful impacts on educational outcomes were found for the full sample, but recent transfer students saw a modest positive impact on credits earned during the program semester.


      An Impact Study at Hillsborough Community College

      June, 2010
      Michael J. Weiss, Mary Visher, Heather Wathington

      A random assignment study of learning communities that linked a developmental reading course and a “college success” course finds that faculty collaboration and curricular integration increased over time. Overall, the program had no impact on students’ academic success, but evidence suggests that it had some positive effects for the last cohort of students in the study.

      Working Paper

      The Policy and Practice of Assessing and Placing Students in Developmental Education Courses

      March, 2010
      Stephanie Safran, Mary Visher

      This paper reports on case studies conducted at three community colleges to learn about how the colleges assess students for placement in developmental education courses. The case studies identify several problems and challenges, including lack of consensus about the standard for college-level work, the high-stakes nature of the assessments, and the minimal relationship between assessment for placement and diagnosis for instruction.


      The Experience of Six Community Colleges

      March, 2010
      Mary Visher, Emily Schneider, Heather Wathington, Herbert Collado

      Learning communities, which enroll groups of students together in coordinated classes, are increasingly being used to help developmental-level students succeed. This report on the Learning Communities Demonstration, a large-scale, random assignment evaluation, describes the strategies that six community colleges used and the challenges they faced in scaling up their programs.


      An Impact Evaluation of the Beacon Program at South Texas College

      February, 2010
      Mary Visher, Kristin F. Butcher, Oscar Cerna

      Created as part of the national Achieving the Dream initiative, a “light touch” intervention targeting students enrolled in lower-level math courses increased the number of students using campus tutoring and academic services. While the program has not improved math class pass rates or persistence in college overall, it has had positive effects for part-time and developmental students.

      Working Paper

      Rationale, Sites, and Research Design

      May, 2008
      Mary Visher, Heather Wathington, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Emily Schneider

      Launched in 2007 by MDRC and the National Center for Postsecondary Research, the Learning Communities Demonstration is testing models of this promising approach in six community colleges in five states. This report describes the research design, including information about the colleges and their models, the random assignment process, data sources, analysis plans, and reporting schedule.

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