debugging block

content first

debugging block

Young Adults and Higher Education: Barriers and Breakthroughs to Success

August 2009

Thomas Brock, MDRC

Download 'working_paper09-14.pdf'.


This paper reviews systematic research findings on the effectiveness of various interventions designed to help at-risk students remain in college. It shows how changes in federal policy and public attitudes since the mid-1960s have opened up higher education to women, minorities, and nontraditional students and also shifted the “center of gravity” in higher education away from traditional four-year colleges toward nonselective community colleges. Students at two-year colleges, however, are far less likely than those at four-year institutions to complete a degree, owing in part to poor preparation for college and other personal circumstances, and to weaknesses or gaps in educational programs and services offered on many campuses.

The paper reviews programs and interventions that some institutions have undertaken in order to raise completion rates. For example, some colleges have experimented with remedial programs that build social cohesion between students and faculty and integrate content across courses. Other colleges have tested student support service programs that offer counseling and advising that are regular, intensive, and personalized. Still others have experimented with ways to simplify the financial aid application process and incentivize students to earn good grades and persist in school. While such programs and interventions can improve student outcomes, more needs to be done to bring proven practices to scale and to test new ideas that might lead to better results. The institutions that most need help are those that provide the greatest access to nontraditional and underprepared students: community colleges and less selective universities.

Educational Attainment, Education and Training Programs