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Research Report
May 25, 2022

Overseeing the Overseers

Can Federal Oversight of Accreditation Improve Student Outcomes?

Since the passage of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, the federal government has relied on the accreditation process to ensure quality at postsecondary institutions receiving federal dollars. In the ensuing decades, spending on higher education by the federal government—most significantly through federal student loans and grants—and by individuals has increased exponentially. Even as this spending helped fuel substantial growth in enrollment, a completion crisis has left many former students with debt but no degree, and highly uncertain labor…
Research Report
August 3, 2021

Breaking Down Barriers

The Impact of State Authorization Reciprocity on Online Enrollment

State authorization, or the approval by a given state for a college to operate within its jurisdiction, is an important part of the regulatory triad. The triad is the three-pronged oversight of higher education that includes the federal government, accrediting bodies, and state governments. State authorization has become more complicated with the rapid expansion of online education that is blurring state geographic boundaries. Colleges seeking to enroll students from numerous states in online programs must obtain authorization in each of…
Issue Brief
July 21, 2021

Right in Your Backyard

Expanding Local Community College Transfer Pathways to High-Graduation-Rate Institutions

Each year, our country’s most selective four-year institutions invest significant resources to recruit talented high school students from across the country. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, admissions representatives traveled far and wide to convince these prospective students that the academic rigor, amenities, and opportunities at their institution are unparalleled. These students, mostly affluent and white, contemplate admission offers and consider moves to new locales to pursue their postsecondary plans. Yet, many of these selective institutions are overlooking a talented and diverse…
Research Report
June 29, 2021

American Talent Initiative 2021

Third Annual Progress Report

The American Talent Initiative (ATI) brings together a coalition of four-year colleges and universities in pursuit of a common goal: enrolling, supporting, and graduating 50,000 additional lower-income students by 2025 at the colleges and universities that consistently graduate at least 70 percent of their students in six years. ATI’s third annual progress report provides a snapshot of progress—and setbacks. It comes at a time when a global pandemic has deepened inequality, and a national uprising against systemic racism has sharpened…
Issue Brief
March 15, 2021

Federal Policies for Increasing Socioeconomic Diversity at Selective Colleges and Universities

Earning a bachelor’s degree is increasingly important to an individual’s longer-term economic prospects. Communities, at all levels, also benefit when their members earn postsecondary credentials, through improved economic, social, and health outcomes. Yet, despite an increase in college participation over the last two decades, severe inequities in bachelor’s degree attainment remain; inequities that often leave lower-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students with debt and no or low-value credentials. With Democrats coalescing around a number of federal…
Issue Brief
January 19, 2021

It’s Complicated

The Relationship between Postsecondary Attainment and State Finances

Increased college-going and attainment comes with a host of benefits for individuals and society. A college credential is associated with increased civic engagement, volunteering, happiness, life satisfaction, and better health and wellness, as well as lower incarceration rates and reliance on social services. In addition to the host of nonpecuniary benefits of higher education, there is a direct link between both college access and attainment and students’ future economic outcomes. For example, students with test scores just above the eligibility…
Issue Brief
December 10, 2020

Reimagining State Higher Education Funding

Recommendations from the Ithaka S+R Convening

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unfolding, but already the pandemic seems likely to have an unprecedented impact on higher education finances. In response to declining tax revenues, states are beginning to curtail higher education funding, a key source of revenue for many public colleges and universities. Changing enrollment patterns and rising unemployment has softened demand for some colleges, which can negatively affect tuition revenues. Limitations on in-person activities and increased health-related costs are shrinking auxiliary revenues, a…
Issue Brief
December 10, 2020

An Overview of State Higher Education Funding Approaches

Lessons and Recommendations

With a pandemic-driven recession and unemployment stratified by postsecondary attainment levels, investments in education, including higher education, are needed now more than ever. Yet, the outlook for state finances is grim, especially if federal investment stalls, and shrinking budgets and financial instability are likely to lead to reductions in state spending. As we discuss in a companion brief, during times of constrained resources, states’ playbooks should include three key elements: ensuring that higher education funding is adequate, ensuring that institutions…
Research Report
November 16, 2020

Comparing Public Institution-Level Data on Students’ Family Income and Financial Aid

In a recent research report titled “Better Than We Thought,” our team at Ithaka S+R compared Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS) data on the parental income distribution of entering college students with two other public sources of socioeconomic information on that population. In the report, we first checked the consistency of the income distributions reported by IPEDS with a more comprehensive dataset of tax records collected by researchers Opportunity Insights. Finding that, at the level of aggregate groups of institutions…
Issue Brief
October 28, 2020

Making the Case for Student Veterans

Building Support for Student Veteran Enrollment

A college degree is increasingly associated with greater economic opportunity for individuals and positive economic, social, and civic benefits for society. Yet, gaps in college access by income and race/ethnicity persist, especially at the most selective colleges and universities where students have the best chance to succeed due to greater resources and high graduation rates. These gaps perpetuate economic and social inequality, as access to high-quality education is essential for social mobility. Veterans and service members of the United States…
Issue Brief
October 1, 2020

Policies to Ensure Equitable Access to Well-Resourced Colleges and Universities

Inequity in higher education access is a persistent problem. One way in which this manifests is through inequitable opportunities to attend the most well-resourced institutions. When students attend limited-resource institutions, they are less likely to persist and earn a credential and typically have weaker labor market prospects. Low-income and racial and ethnic minority students are more likely to attend under-resourced institutions than their wealthier and white peers. These enrollment patterns vis-à-vis institutional resources stand to perpetuate social and economic inequities.
Issue Brief
August 27, 2020

Seven Practices for Building Community and Student Belonging Virtually

Most colleges and universities have traditionally provided in-person programming and supports to strengthen bonds between students and build a sense of community. These activities, such as campus-wide events, one-on-one advising appointments, career development workshops, and mentorship programs, help students develop a sense of belonging at the institution, improve their academic experience, and boost their chances of graduating. These programs and supports are especially important for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, whose experiences of exclusion on campus can impede their progress…
Research Report
February 19, 2020

Expanding Opportunity for Lower-Income Students

Three Years of the American Talent Initiative

The American Talent Initiative (ATI) was formed in December 2016 to address a persistent issue—specifically, that the American colleges and universities with the greatest resources, and where students have the highest likelihood of graduating, have historically served far too few young people from low- and middle-income backgrounds. The American Talent Initiative has a goal to enroll an additional 50,000 low- and middle-income students at these institutions by the year 2025. ATI is on track to meet its goal. Between 2015-16,…
Research Report
February 13, 2020

Raising the Bar

What States Need to Do to Hit Their Ambitious Higher Education Attainment Goals

Over the past decade, there has been considerable attention placed on the role that state higher education systems play in preparing residents for a rapidly changing labor market. Given the increasing importance of a postsecondary degree in this market—both due to disproportionate growth in high skilled jobs and an influx of credentialization—educational attainment has become a focal point in discussions amongst researchers, policy advocates, and institutional actors. The attainment rate, calculated as the share of adults possessing a postsecondary credential,…
Issue Brief
December 12, 2019

Expanding Pathways to College Enrollment and Degree Attainment

Policies and Reforms for a Diverse Population

For states to increase access to and attainment of higher education, they must implement policies and reforms that support learners who have not traditionally been well-served by higher education. By 2020, the United States is projected to have a shortage of five million workers with the adequate postsecondary education to fulfill workforce needs. States have a vested interest in and obligation to create multiple pathways to college enrollment and credential attainment that fit the needs of their diverse populations, not…
Case Study
November 21, 2019

Bard High School Early College

A Case Study

A rigorous liberal arts undergraduate experience has long been the benchmark for higher education in America. Broad-based, with areas of depth, and many opportunities for rich discussion, application, and writing, the liberal arts experience cultivates human potential, prepares students for the start of their career, and readies them for lifelong learning and for adapting to new circumstances. As automation extends throughout our economy, the human skills developed through the liberal arts will only become more important.
Issue Brief
October 2, 2019

The Strategic Alignment of State Appropriations, Tuition, and Financial Aid Policies

In response to the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, states reduced their expenditures on many public services and goods, including substantial cuts to higher education spending. Despite a strong economic recovery since the Great Recession and significant increases in student enrollment, most states’ spending on higher education has not returned to pre-recession levels. Reductions in state spending and rising costs have led a number of public colleges and universities to increase tuition, making college less affordable for many students…
Issue Brief
June 12, 2019

Setting a North Star

Motivations, Implications, and Approaches to State Postsecondary Attainment Goals

Higher education attainment goals can serve as a “north star” to guide states’ postsecondary policies, investments, and agendas. The extent to which state attainment goals lead to substantive improvements in college-going rates, college graduation rates, postsecondary credential attainment rates, and reductions in labor market skills gaps is as yet unclear. Further, the likelihood a state will meet its attainment goals varies by state and depends on contextual factors that are within and outside the purview of the education sector. In…
Research Report
May 15, 2019

Better Than We Thought

Comparing Publicly Available Data on College Students’ Income Distribution

In January 2017, a valuable new information source was introduced to the higher education community. Researchers at the Equality of Opportunity Project—now called Opportunity Insights—released detailed data on the financial circumstances of undergraduate students at each of the vast majority of American colleges and universities.[1] Covering students born between 1980 and 1991, and relying on tax records held by the Internal Revenue Service, the publicly available Opportunity Insights data provided a nuanced look at the family income distribution as well…
Research Report
January 10, 2019

Enrolling More Veterans at High-Graduation-Rate Colleges and Universities

Higher education plays a vital role in raising income, moderating income inequality, and increasing economic growth and global competitiveness. But U.S. higher education attainment continues to lag for lower-income and underrepresented-minority students, particularly at the colleges and universities that have the most resources and the highest graduation rates. As a stark example, research by economist Raj Chetty and his team found that there are more students from the top one percent of the income distribution at the Ivy-Plus colleges than…
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