The Higher Education Randomized Controlled Trial


For The Higher Education Randomized Controlled Trial project (THE-RCT), MDRC has created the largest individual-participant database from higher education randomized controlled trials to date. THE-RCT makes standardized, deidentified data from more than 25 studies covering 50 institutions of higher education and 65,000 students securely available to qualified researchers. This database serves as a resource to explore questions such as:

  • Which program features/components (for example, enhanced advising or increased financial support) are associated with larger improvements in student success?
  • Once a program is over, what happens to student success? Are gains maintained? Do they fade out? Do they grow?
  • What sized improvements in student success can various higher education programs reasonably expect to achieve?
  • Do short-term program effects predict long-term program effects?

Ultimately, MDRC hopes that this database will inspire new scholarship on these and other topics that will help improve outcomes for low-income, underrepresented, and underprepared students, who have long been a focus of MDRC’s higher education studies.

The database is hosted by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan. Documentation on the database, including information on each of the studies included in it, is publicly available on ICPSR. MDRC plans to continue to add to the database as it conducts additional randomized controlled trials in higher education, making it a more useful resource over time.

For more, check out this post on the Center for Open Science blog.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

For more than 15 years, MDRC has built a rigorous body of evidence by conducting more randomized controlled trials in higher education settings than any other organization. Among others, these include the Opening Doors Demonstration, the Learning Communities Demonstration, and the evaluation of Performance-Based Scholarships. By making deidentified data available to qualified researchers, MDRC hopes to encourage further research and analysis.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The programs evaluated in the studies that are part of THE-RCT vary in content, delivery mode, duration, and intensity.

Design: Each study that will be included in THE-RCT database used a random assignment research design to study the effectiveness of a program. Eligible students were randomly assigned either to a program group, whose members were eligible for the program under study, or to a control group, whose members were eligible for all available services other than the program under study.

Data: The database will include studies’ baseline survey data and transcript, enrollment, and degree data from administrative sources.