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In a college classroom, two students speak with their professor about a recent report. Building Strong Evidence on the Effectiveness of Postsecondary Solutions

Building on Prior Learning to Test the Effectiveness of Solutions that Better Serve Learners

June 17, 2024 3-minute read
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Building strong evidence about the postsecondary education and workforce training practices, policies, and reforms that are most effective for learners from low-income backgrounds is critical for driving large-scale change. Through our grantmaking, we hope to catalyze the adoption of the most effective solutions so that they reach the most learners possible. We work to accomplish that by creating evidence that others can use to encourage changes to the systems that serve these learners.

We recently awarded two validation grants that build on prior investments and test the effectiveness of solutions and accompanying state level policies. These projects — which involve mixed-methods evaluations of solutions implemented by community college systems in Louisiana and Virginia — provide actionable evidence for key stakeholders in these states and nationally about the practices and policies that can advance learner mobility.

Testing the Effectiveness of a Learning Application on Entry-Level College Course Pass Rates

A grant to the University of Texas at Austin supports researchers, in partnership with the Louisiana Board of Regents and Louisiana Community and Technical College System, in studying how a tech-enabled learning application embedded in co-requisite support can improve learner success in key entry-level courses at nine Louisiana community colleges. The learning application contains modules and practice quizzes specific to each course, providing students an easily accessible way to review and practice core concepts and identify areas to prioritize based on any gaps in their knowledge. Instructors of the courses also receive data from the application that helps them see where their learners are struggling and could use additional support. Based on its effectiveness at one Louisiana community college, practitioners in the state want to expand use of the learning application to other community colleges to explore its effectiveness within different institutional contexts.

This study also comes on the heels of an important policy change in Louisiana. Following a national trend, the state began eliminating stand-alone developmental education courses in fall 2023, replacing them with co-requisite models that place students directly into entry-level college courses paired with co-requisite support courses. As Louisiana shifts to a co-requisite model, the study will build much-needed evidence about the effectiveness of targeted supports that can be embedded within co-requisite courses at a relatively low cost to boost student success.

Building Evidence on Effective Noncredit Workforce Training Programs and an Innovative Funding Model

A grant to researchers at the Regents of the University of California at Irvine, in partnership with the Virginia Community College System, will build evidence about effective noncredit workforce training programs as a diverse pathway model for helping learners from low-income backgrounds achieve upward mobility. This study builds on prior research on Virginia’s FastForward program demonstrating the impacts of noncredit training provided through community colleges on learners’ labor market outcomes.

Funded by Virginia’s Workforce Credential Grant Program, FastForward includes a unique pay-for-performance model for funding programs that involves cost sharing amongst the state, the learners, and the training institution. Funding for each party is determined by student performance, creating shared incentives that drive toward learners’ success in completing noncredit programs. Researchers supported through the grant will build evidence about the efficacy of this innovative funding structure in increasing enrollment in and completion of noncredit programs that allow learners to get a foothold in jobs with better earnings. The FastForward model has caught the eye of policymakers in other states, and results from the evaluation could provide guidance for other state leaders on how to support the most effective training models to meet workforce demand.

Both validation grants support evaluations to build the body of evidence about promising reforms and innovations — a core aspect of our grantmaking strategy. Because both projects also feature research-practice partnerships between community college systems and external researcher teams, those directly involved can use the findings to strengthen their student success efforts in real time, while broader learnings from the studies can inform policymakers and practitioners nationwide about effective reforms and policies that warrant replication and adaptation.