Author Archives: Wade Jacobsen

College for Students with Disabilities

Future of Children authors Sandy Baum, Charles Kurose, and Michael McPherson write that as postsecondary enrollment expands in the US, student demand for academic and personal support services is increasing. Academic support programs such as developmental or remediation courses help older, returning students or high school graduates who need additional training to reach college-entry level. Personal support programs may provide services such as child care or transportation. All of these programs seek to improve student experiences and college outcomes.

Students with learning disabilities are a rapidly growing population that has received relatively little attention in terms of college preparation and support. Many of these children participate in special education programs before finishing high school. Authors Laudan Aron and Pamela Loprest explain that the special education system has helped to increase their access to and participation in public education, but there is room for improvement. An often challenging point for these children is in the transition into adulthood. Janet Currie and Robert Kahn report that high schools offer services to help students make the transition but no one is required to monitor the effectiveness of services for adults once they enter the community.

As college enrollment among students with learning disabilities increases, demand for personal and academic support services should also increase. Thus, a growing number of traditional universities are seeking to improve resources for students with disabilities, including supplemental support programs. For the latest research and policy recommendations on this topic, see the Future of Children issues on Postsecondary Education and Children with Disabilities.

Reducing the Risk of Parental Incarceration

To reduce children’s exposure to the negative effects of having a parent incarcerated (for example, family financial strain, health and social problems, housing insecurity, etc.), Future of Children authors Bruce Western and Christopher Wildeman urged policymakers to limit prison time and provide effective drug treatment for nonviolent drug offenders. In line with this call, Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the Justice Department would stop perusing mandatory minimum prison sentences for certain nonviolent offenders and promote drug-treatment alternatives to incarceration. The changes, effective immediately, should help to reduce the prison population and the number of children exposed to incarceration.

With about half the current prison population meeting the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, effective drug treatment for prisoners and parolees is a serious concern. As the incarceration rate begins to decline, thousands of men and women will be sent back into their communities, and many will need substance abuse treatment. Western and Wildeman report that prisoner reentry programs have been found to reduce recidivism by connecting ex-prisoners to substance abuse treatment services as well as education and employment opportunities.

Policymakers and practitioners should also focus on early contact with the criminal justice system. Laurie Chassin notes that substance abuse disorders are common among adolescents in the juvenile justice system and underscores the need for effective screening methods so that youth can be redirected away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems as early as possible. She highlights the role of the youth’s social environment and mental health and finds evidence in favor of family-based treatment models.

Limiting prison time, providing effective drug-treatment for offenders and ex-prisoners, and identifying and addressing substance-use disorders early on should help to lower the proportion of children exposed to parental incarceration. For more on this topic, see the Future of Children issues on Fragile Families and Juvenile Justice.

Family Relationships Following the Great Recession

Research from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study suggests that stress or uncertainty about external circumstances can impact family relationships. One recent study by Dohoon Lee, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Sara McLanahan, Daniel Notterman, and Irwin Garfinkel finds that mothers used more harsh parenting practices, such as corporal punishment, following the Great Recession. Moreover, macroeconomic conditions like consumer sentiment (that is, how people feel generally about the economy), rather than actual conditions (for example, local unemployment rate), are associated with harsh parenting.

Findings from another study suggest that macroeconomic stress has caused couples to delay or forego separation or divorce, especially among those hardest hit by the recession. Based on research presented in the Future of Children suggesting positive outcomes of marriage for children, such a finding could have good implications for low-conflict families but serious consequences for families experiencing violence or abuse.

Future of Children authors Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan, and Virginia Knox explain that some low-income family intervention programs have begun to address how parents and partners can cope with the stress and uncertainty caused by external circumstances such as a dragging economy. The authors highlight one such program that has had encouraging early results. Participants in the Supporting Healthy Marriage project, a yearlong marriage and relationship education program for couples with children, report less abuse, more positive communication, and greater marital happiness than control-group counterparts.

With the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers at more than 40 percent, similar programs for unmarried couples with children are being evaluated. One such project called Building Strong Families found little evidence of relationship quality improvement among participants, but Cowan and colleagues indicate that more analyses are needed to understand these findings. Research on the challenges that unmarried families face can be found in the Future of Children issue on Fragile Families. Also see our issue The Next Generation of Antipoverty Policies.

A Culture of Flexibility

In the US, employees with more education and higher salaries generally have greater access to workplace flexibility (for example, time off, adjustable schedules, etc.) than do low-wage workers. But even among those who have access, write Future of Children authors Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton, the culture surrounding flexibility may deter employees from taking advantage of it. Sixty-one percent of employees believe they would be less likely to get ahead in their jobs if they asked for flexibility.

Workplace flexibility is important for both women and men, but it is especially important for mothers of young children. Princeton University’s Ann-Marie Slaughter argues that mothers in professional or leadership positions will not be able to successfully juggle work and family until workplace norms and values allow for more balance. Consistent with this view, Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton report that the higher employees climb the professional ladder, the more likely they are to agree that they have had to choose between advancing in their jobs and devoting time to family life.

This month, research by the New York Times suggests that many working mothers, especially those with young children, may not be aspiring to top leadership positions. Though half of all mothers in the US work full time, a recent poll shows that only a quarter would choose to work full-time if they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Thus, for some women workplace flexibility may be more important than career advancement.

Changing the culture of workplace flexibility is an important first step for improving work-family balance. Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton outline several strategies for increasing flexibility. Developed by the Families and Work Institute, these strategies include community collaboration and educational events, media outreach, and measuring results. The details of these strategies, along with research and policy recommendations for workplace flexibility, can be found in the Future of Children issue on Work and Family.

Minority Youth and Police Contact

A recent article in The Atlantic points out that US incarceration rates are extremely high compared to those of other nations, especially for black men. But jails and prisons represent just one of many stages in the justice system where racial-ethnic disparity is a major problem, even for youth. Understanding why black and Latino adolescents experience greater risk of contact with the juvenile justice system is a difficult task. Future of Children author Alex Piquero argues that police play an important decision-making role in juvenile justice. Thus, careful examination of a youth’s initial interaction with police may shed some light on the issue of minority contact.

One example of police contact is New York City’s Stop-and-Frisk program. It has been practiced by the New York Police Department for decades, and many contend that it has helped keep guns off the street and lower the city’s homicide rate. Some research shows evidence to support this argument, but the practice has nonetheless been met with heated debate and complaints of racial profiling. Indeed, a recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that more than 86 percent of police stops in 2012 were of blacks or Latinos.

To address the controversy surrounding Stop-and-Frisk, the City Council voted today to increase the oversight of police by establishing a new inspector general position. Yet some fear placing more limits on police will lead to an increase in crime rates. Piquero urges rigorous evaluation of new initiatives to curb disproportionate minority contact, with a focus on the best evidence for what works. Find his evidence-based suggestions in the Future of Children issue on Juvenile Justice.

Reforming College Remediation Programs

Despite the rising percentage of working-age adults with a college degree, low college completion rates are still a major problem in the US and will have to rise much more to meet the demands of the future workforce. One problem, especially as workers have been displaced following the economic crisis, is that many students are arriving or returning to college underprepared for college work. Future of Children author Eric P. Bettinger, Angela Boatman, and Bridget Terry Long report that the number of high school graduates who are ready for college-level material may be as low as one-third, with even lower levels among some nontraditional students.

Colleges have adjusted to the needs of incoming students by offering greater access to developmental or remedial courses, placing close to 40 percent of incoming freshmen into such courses. Structure and quality vary widely, and they have shown mixed results in their effectiveness. Some argue that too many students are placed in remedial courses unnecessarily, with high costs to institutions and the public. Evidence suggests that remedial courses may have positive effects for those who need them, but may actually have negative consequences for those who don’t.

Bettinger, Boatman, and Long say one way colleges might improve the effectiveness of such programs is to reexamine placement procedures. For example, some states have begun offering placement exams to high school sophomores and juniors, as opposed to waiting until their college freshman year, to give students the opportunity to consult with parents, advisors, and educators about areas to focus on as they prepare for college. Some institutions are also making efforts to redesign their developmental programs, stressing remediation not as a curricular roadblock but as a means to launch students on to college-level work and give them the skills they need to succeed in a college major. For the best evidence for what works, read the latest research on this topic in the Future of Children issue on Postsecondary Education in the United States.

Is College a Good Investment?

Many of this year’s graduating high school seniors already have their eyes set on a specific university, but others wonder if pursuing a postsecondary degree is really worth the time and cost. The public continues to debate whether college is a good investment, but in a review of the latest research, Future of Children authors Philip Oreopoulos and Uros Petronijevic find truth somewhere in the middle. They suggest that college can be a good investment if students prepare well and plan their studies and occupational pursuits carefully.

About 19 percent of 2011 high school graduates who took the ACT and were considered academically ready never enrolled in college or didn’t return to college after the first year. Some of these students may have had better alternatives, but many may have been unprepared in nonacademic ways, such as lacking information about college expenses and financial aid. Andrea Venezia and Laura Jaeger write that many students may not know enough about themselves or their future goals to know which college would be best. In addition, students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds may feel obliged to attend a less-selective program that is closer to home, even though they qualify academically for more selective institutions. Evidence suggests that such students are less likely to graduate.

In helping students prepare for postsecondary education, educators and policymakers should move beyond an academic focus. Precollege programs across the country have begun to emphasize guiding students through the decision making process and other nonacademic preparation. College is a better investment when students are well informed about the expenses and financial aid options associated with specific programs at specific schools. For more on this topic, check out the Future of Children issue on Postsecondary Education in the United States.

From Prison to Postsecondary Education

For every three people enrolled in a postsecondary institution, one person is under correctional supervision (incarcerated, on parole, or on probation). College has been part of the American Dream for decades, but prisoners and parolees have for the most part been ignored in discussions on improving college enrollment and completion rates.

Most high school students would like to achieve some sort of postsecondary education, but many leave high school unprepared for college work. This may be especially true for young adults involved with the criminal justice system, who are more likely to be from poor, racial-ethnic minority, or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, education levels among the correctional population are much lower than among the general population. Some evidence suggests that increasing educational attainment among offenders may effectively reduce recidivism, but few studies have rigorously examined how postsecondary education affects the correctional population.

The Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, recently launched by the Vera Institute of Justice, “seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, reduce recidivism, and increase employability and earnings.” The initiative will take place in three states over five years, and evaluations will be conducted by the RAND Corporation. At least one of the states, New Jersey, already has correctional postsecondary education programs in place, including Princeton University’s Prison Teaching Initiative.

The Future of Children issue on Postsecondary Education highlights the dramatic changes that are taking place in institutions of higher education and the students who attend them. As policymakers and educators make efforts to increase enrollment and improve program quality and completion, they should not forget the 7 million people under correctional supervision and what access to college for them might mean for their families and the nation as a whole.

Finding and Fixing Flaws in Financial Aid Policy

Recent reports underscore what many argue are serious problems with current financial aid policy. Lawmakers debate about how to handle the soon-to-expire low interest rate on federal student loans. Meanwhile, public and private colleges and universities have awarded more merit-based than need-based scholarships in recent years, leaving low-income students to seek other options or saddle large amounts of debt. As noted by Susan Dynarski and Judith Scott-Clayton, important questions to ask in addressing such issues are how effective current policies are in increasing student enrollment, performance, and completion, and what influence financial aid has on students’ choices following graduation.

From their review of the research on financial aid, Dynarski and Scott-Clayton draw four important lessons for lawmakers, colleges, and universities. First, money matters. Financial aid increases student enrollment and may improve persistence and completion. Second, all aid programs are not equally effective. Studies show that personalized information and assistance in the financial aid process can increase college entry. Third, academic incentives are helpful. Achievement-based financial aid may increase college performance and completion rates. Finally, the design of student loans may be improved to be clearer about student risks and repayments upfront.

Financial aid had become increasingly important for college enrollment and completion. Lawmakers and college administrators should draw upon the best evidence as policy changes continue to develop. To review the latest evidence on postsecondary financial aid policy, see the newest issue of Future of Children, Postsecondary Education in the United States.

College at a Crossroads

As the latest issue of the Future of Children reports, higher education in the US is changing dramatically. On the one hand, access to college has expanded at a remarkable rate. On the other hand, scores of students are finishing high school unprepared for college work. Meanwhile, today’s economy has left many public colleges and universities strapped for resources and unable to meet student demand. Thus, many students, particularly those from low-income families, are forced to either seek an alternative route or drop out.

One rapidly growing option for students is for-profit colleges. Also known as proprietary colleges, they often exist as large national chains led by online institutions. Future of Children authors David Deming, Claudia Goldin, and Lawrence Katz explain that for-profit colleges seem to be most helpful when they offer short, well-defined programs offering a clear path to a specific occupation. While these programs have grown to efficiently meet student demand as public institutions have struggled, their students carry higher levels of debt and are more likely to default on loans. Indeed, much of the revenue these institutions rely on comes from federal student aid. Moreover, the rate of return for these students is lower. Upon leaving school, they are more likely to be unemployed and have lower earnings than students at other institutions.

To keep up with student demand, many state systems and community colleges have sought to expand access to online learning programs. The Babson Survey Research Group estimates that by 2010, 31 percent of college and university students were enrolled in at least one online course. As Marketplace reports, more selective institutions may also begin offering more options for online learning. Examining the research, Bradford Bell and Jessica Federman find that online learning can be an effective tool in higher education, insofar as it creates conditions that are conducive to learning specific content. See the latest research on e-learning in the new issue of the Future of Children, Postsecondary Education in the United States.