Event Recap: Forum on Evidence-Based Practices in College Persistence and Completion

On June 30th, the Research Alliance for New York City Schools and Graduate NYC! convened more than 100 education practitioners, researchers, and policymakers for a forum on evidence-based practices in college persistence and completion, held at NYU’s Kimmel Center. 

The forum highlighted evidence about promising strategies to help more students complete college, as well as important areas for future study. A presentation by Vanessa Coca of the Research Alliance underscored the relevance of this issue here in New York City, where the last decade has seen significant increases in rates of high school graduation and college enrollment, but little improvement in college graduation rates.

Martha Kanter (Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education and Senior Fellow at NYU; former U.S. Under Secretary of Education) delivered a keynote address, followed by a research panel featuring Elisa Hertz (Guttman Community College), Melinda Karp (Community College Research Center), Christine Logel (Renison University College), and Mike Weiss (MDRC).

Dr. Kanter introduced one of the day’s key themes—working across silos. She emphasized the need to forge stronger links between discrete programs and systems, including between K-12 and higher education. Panelist Elisa Hertz talked about the silos that exist within colleges and universities and encouraged faculty and administrators to restructure roles and work across functions to provide more comprehensive support to students.

Several speakers addressed the gap between education research and practice, and the unfortunate reality that research often ends up “sitting on the shelf.” Panelists suggested several reasons why it is hard to put research into action, ranging from difficulty finding and understanding relevant research, to the challenge of replicating successful programs in new contexts and limited ability to predict in advance what kind of support different students will need.

Panelists also proposed opportunities to overcome these challenges. For example, Melinda Karp suggested looking for “common threads” that emerge across individual programs (e.g., the importance of strong relationships), in order to identify affordable, effective practices that others can try. Speakers also encouraged practitioners and researchers to work together more closely to evaluate the impact of various interventions—for different students and in different settings.

Following the panel, smaller breakout sessions highlighted programs working to support students toward a college degree. The sessions featured CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative, Bottom Line, NYU’s Academic Achievement Program, and a presentation from Christine Logel about brief, targeted “mindset” interventions that aim to help students understand and overcome stress they face in their transition to college.

“Increasing college persistence and completion is a critical challenge for our field. We are grateful to Graduate NYC! for advancing this important conversation.” said James Kemple, Executive Director of the Research Alliance. “The Research Alliance is examining a range of related questions through our partnership with the NYC Department of Education and the City University of New York, and today's forum has pointed to some exciting new avenues for us to explore.”