Elevating college completion: What can be done to raise postsecondary attainment in America? - AEI

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Event Summary

On Thursday, Frederick M. Hess of AEI and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way hosted a bipartisan research symposium on college completion. The event marked the public release of five new reports in the AEI–Third Way collaborative project “Elevating College Completion.”

On the first panel, the Urban Institute’s Matthew M. Chingos and the University of Virginia’s Sarah Turner discussed the landscape of college completion. Dr. Turner reviewed recent policy efforts aimed at addressing America’s completion problem, and Dr. Chingos highlighted academic preparation in high school as the key predictor for a student’s future success in college.

On the second panel, Kim Clark of Education Writers Association and Mesmin Destin of Northwestern University discussed best practices from colleges and universities to improve college completion rates. Ms. Clark’s research calls out several university-level programs that have proven to be particularly effective at raising completion, and Dr. Destin highlighted how various psychological factors — including motives and mindsets — also play a role in improving a student’s chance at completing college.
The final panel featured an impressive group of policy experts who discussed ways that the federal and state governments can help colleges focus on completion, without spurring unintended consequences.

–Cody Christensen

Event Materials

The College Completion Landscape: Trends, Challenges, and Why It Matters

The Policy Imperative: Policy Tools Should Create Incentives for College Completion

Completion Reforms That Work: How Leading Colleges Are Improving the Attainment of High-Value Degrees

What Matters Most for College Completion? Academic Preparation Is a Key Predictor of Success

Leveraging Psychological Factors: A Necessary Component to Improving Student Outcomes

Event Description

Federal higher education debates often focus on expanding access to postsecondary education, but policymakers must also consider ways to get more students to actually complete their studies. Today, only about half of all students will finish college. These lackluster completion rates create large private and societal costs: for the individual, in the form of student debt and lost time and, for society, in forgone tax revenue and wasted public subsidies.

Please join AEI and Third Way for a bipartisan research symposium on college completion, as we explore a new set of research papers on raising degree attainment. Policy experts and researchers will discuss the current landscape of college completion, what policies might improve graduation rates, and how policymakers can accomplish these goals without creating perverse incentives for colleges to compromise standards or quality.

Join the conversation on social media with #ElevateCompletion.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


1:15 PM

1:30 PM
Welcome and introduction:
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way
Frederick M. Hess, AEI

Panel I: The college completion landscape in America

Matt Chingos, Urban Institute
Sarah Turner, University of Virginia

Frederick M. Hess, AEI

2:25 PM

2:35 PM
Panel II: Factors that affect college completion

Kim Clark, Education Writers Association
Mesmin Destin, Northwestern University

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way

3:25 PM

3:35 PM
Panel III: The opportunities and limitations of using policy to improve degree attainment

James Bergeron, National Council of Higher Education Resources
Denise Forte, The Century Foundation
Amy Jones, House Committee on Education and the Workforce
Kara Marchione, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

Bethany Little, Education Counsel

4:40 PM
Adjournment and reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Cody Christensen at [email protected], 202.828.6032.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

James Bergeron serves as president of the National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER), which represents a nationwide network of lenders, secondary markets, guaranty agencies, loan servicers, private collection agencies, schools, and others that help students, borrowers, parents, and families access, manage, and pay for postsecondary education. Before joining NCHER, he worked as the director of education and human services policy for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Before joining the committee in 2006, he served as legislative director for Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA). Mr. Bergeron began his Capitol Hill service almost 20 years ago as a legislative assistant to Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), who chaired the House Appropriations Committee. He also served as vice president of MARC Associates (now part of Holland & Knight), a government relations firm where he consulted for elementary, secondary, and higher education organizations. He holds a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Matt Chingos is director of the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Program, which undertakes policy-relevant research on issues from prekindergarten through postsecondary education. He is an executive editor of Education Next and coauthor of “Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt” (Princeton University Press, 2016). His work has been featured in major media outlets and academic journals, including the Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Before joining Urban, Dr. Chingos was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He received a B.A. in government and economics and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University.

Kim Clark is an assistant director of the Education Writers Association (EWA), where she plays a leading role in directing EWA programming on education beyond high school. Previously, she served as a senior writer for Money magazine, where her reporting focused on the financial costs of higher education. She previously covered higher education for US News & World Report and created Financialaidletter.com, the first site to post real financial aid letters and show how confusing they can be. She is a corecipient of Loeb and Luce awards for public service journalism and the 2013 top prize for magazine investigative work from the EWA.

Mesmin Destin is associate professor at Northwestern University in the School of Education and Social Policy and the Department of Psychology. He is also a fellow of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Dr. Destin directs a multidisciplinary lab group and investigates social psychological mechanisms underlying socioeconomic disparities in educational outcomes during adolescence and young adulthood. Using laboratory and field experiments, he studies factors that influence how young people perceive themselves and their futures. At the university level, he examines how subtle social experiences and institutional messaging shape the motivation and educational trajectories of low socioeconomic status and first-generation college students. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in psychology and sociology from Northwestern University.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky is vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, where she advances the case for expanding opportunity and freedom on a wide range of issues. She leads the organization’s work on issues such as immigration, abortion, religious liberty, and guns, as well as helping drive crucial policy conversations such as how we can ensure our higher education system is delivering for students. She served on President Obama’s third Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and as legislative counsel at Alliance for Justice, where she investigated the backgrounds of federal judicial nominees on civil and human rights. She earned her J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota and her bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College.

Denise Forte is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, where she focuses on issues related to K–12 and higher education, including efforts to increase the diversity, quality, and accountability of schools. Previously, she was the staff director for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (Minority) and education policy director for Chairman George Miller (D-CA), providing direction for the legislative agenda on education, children, and youth issues. Ms. Forte started her policy career on Capitol Hill in 1994 when she received a congressional fellowship from the Women’s Research and Education Institute. Before her return to the committee in the 114th Congress, she was the vice president for policy leadership at Leadership for Educational Equity, a leadership development organization supporting current and former teachers in public leadership. Ms. Forte also served in the Obama administration at the US Department of Education from 2011 to 2013, where she held the positions of principal deputy assistant secretary and acting assistant secretary in the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. She received her B.S. in computer science from Duke University in 1986 and a M.A. in women’s studies from the George Washington University in 1996.

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of Education Policy Studies at AEI, where he works on K–12 and higher education issues. He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog “Rick Hess Straight Up,” blogs regularly at Forbes, and, since 2001, has served as executive editor of Education Next. He teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard University. As an educator, political scientist, and author, Dr. Hess is often published in scholarly outlets, such as American Politics Quarterly, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Teachers College Record, and Urban Affairs Review. He is the author of multiple books, including “Letters to a Young Education Reformer” (Harvard Education Press, 2017) and “The Cage-Busting Teacher” (Harvard Education Press, 2015). He has also edited influential books on the Common Core, entrepreneurship in education, education philanthropy, the impact of education research, and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Dr. Hess is the senior founding fellow of the Public Education Foundation’s Leadership Institute of Nevada, sits on the review board for the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, and serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 Schools. He has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in government, in addition to an M.Ed. in teaching and curriculum, from Harvard University.

Amy Jones is the director of education and human services policy at the Committee on Education and the Workforce in the US House of Representatives. Previously, she was an adjunct instructor at the American University Washington College of Law. Additionally, she worked for a boutique law firm, Dean Blakey, specializing in higher education policy and government relations. Before this, she clerked at the US Department of Education and the US Tax Court. Ms. Jones received a bachelor of arts in political science and justice from American University in 1999 and a law degree from the Washington College of Law in 2003.

Bethany Little is a principal at EducationCounsel LLC, where she supports foundations, education associations, and other nonprofits in advancing improvements in education outcomes from early childhood through higher education. She has spent 20 years working in government and nonprofit organizations, including the US Department of Education and the White House, where she was education adviser to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore on the Domestic Policy Council. In the US Senate, she served as chief education counsel to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee under two chairmen, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), and as a legislative aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). In the nonprofit arena, Ms. Little was managing partner at America Achieves, where she led many of the organization’s most critical priorities, including their support for state and local superintendents, the Global Learning Network, and their parent engagement initiative. She has also served as an advocate for disadvantaged children as the vice president for policy and advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education and the director of government relations for the Children’s Defense Fund. She serves on the boards of the National Center for Teacher Residencies, Veterans Education Success, and Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy.

Kara Marchione is the education policy director of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). She manages the education, human services, and workforce portfolio for the HELP Committee under Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA). Before her position on the committee, Ms. Marchione was a senior vice president at Penn Hill Group, focusing on a wide range of issues including early education, K–12 education, and higher education. Before joining Penn Hill Group, she was a senior education policy adviser for the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce. She also spent three years as legislative director for Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA). In addition, Ms. Marchione spent seven years working in the personal office of the Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and as a policy adviser for Sen. Kennedy on the US Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications, law, economics, and government from American University.

Sarah Turner is the Department of Economics chair, Souder Family Professor, and a university professor at the University of Virginia. She is also a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Her research focuses on the economics of the education market, particularly higher education. Recent work focuses on the economics of college choice, how federal financial aid affects students’ collegiate attainment, and scientific labor markets and the flow of foreign students to colleges and universities in the US. Dr. Turner is a principal investigator of the Expanding College Opportunities Project, a randomized controlled trial that had significant effects on the college choices of low-income high achievers. She received her B.A. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan.

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