Many more students are enrolling in higher education programs, particular community colleges, than have in the past. The skills taught and certificates and degrees obtained can increase their earnings and employability, particularly if they stay in school longer. New evaluations continue to provide insight into how to further these goals, but we can start by offering more support services and simplifying the financial aid process.
Finally, to increase schools’ accountability, school districts should build data tracking systems capable of following students from kindergarten through postsecondary education. States are fully aware of the importance of accountability for postsecondary performance and have begun taking steps toward developing the necessary achievement tests and data systems.
To meet these three goals, the authors of the FOC policy brief make a proposal. The $1.7 billion a year that the federal government currently provides for a wide range of efforts aimed at helping disadvantaged students should be re-allocated competitively (to public schools, postsecondary schools, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and coalitions of these organizations). Priority would be given to applicants who are able to show how they will track student progress in reading and math, how they will respond with additional instruction or other assistance when students fall below grade level in either subject, and, where appropriate, how they will track their students’ progress in postsecondary education and modify their college preparation program based on the evidence. Recipients should be required to reapply for funding every three years, and programs that do not increase college enrollment and graduation rates should lose their funding. Preference would go to programs that have effective procedures for enrolling truly disadvantaged students and boosting their achievement and college enrollment and graduation rates. Similarly, preference should go to proposals that provide for rapid response as soon as disadvantaged students begin to fall below grade norms. Finally, the Statewide Longitudinal Data System should be expanded to all states while ensuring that state systems are capable of following students through the college years.