MDRC in the News

Opinion: Biden’s Free Community College Plan is Dead. But There are Other Ways for Congress to Help Students

Commentary by Thomas Bailey and Thomas Brock
Washington Post


As President Biden seeks agreement on his proposed Build Back Better legislation, investment in higher education for America’s most underserved students has unfortunately been among the major concessions. Free community college, a potentially transformative idea, is no longer on the table…..

…..The good news is that community college leaders and researchers working together have learned a lot about how to make community colleges more effective. In the past 20 years, they have developed and tested policies and practices to keep students in school and put them on a more effective path toward degrees…..

…..The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), introduced in 2007 in the City University of New York system, offers block scheduling, intensive advising and financial support to community college students who agree to attend full time. Two randomized controlled trials [by MDRC] found that ASAP nearly doubled graduation rates for students at CUNY and in Ohio community colleges that replicated the model…..

…..A randomized controlled trial at seven community colleges showed that including high school transcripts as part of placement strategies costs an average of $110 per student in the first year; once established, the cost is lower. The cost of implementing Guided Pathways reforms for an average community college is roughly $450 per full-time student per year (mostly directed at advising), or an additional 3 percent of annual operating costs. The ASAP program is more expensive — current estimates run about $3,900 per student per year — but ASAP is cost-effective because it produces so many more graduates than standard programs…..

…..A September House education committee mark-up of the reconciliation bill included $9 billion over 10 years to support this effort. We hope it will survive so that all states may receive at least some funding…..

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